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An interview with The Transit War’s Brad Bohensky

November 25, 2009 - 5:00 pm

San Diego favorites The Transit War (Brad Bohensky, Mike Frey, Jim Hughes, Jaime Solis) used to be a marquee staple around town, vigorously touring for two solid years while claiming a place in the local indie-rock scene. After two full-length records (Ah Discordia!, Miss Your Face) a record label, and much more attention than they anticipated, the boys retreated, stepping back from the spotlight just as quickly as they had demanded it. But you probably know all this. You’ve been waiting patiently since their last show over two years ago for them to emerge from where they’ve been hiding (ahem, Delaware), balls out and ready to rock (again). Well, here it is, folks. Drummer Brad Bohensky sat down with CityBeat to explain where the hell they’ve been, and what you may have missed the first time around. (photo above by Gabe Vega)

At the end of each chapter in my 4th grade Social Studies book, there would be a quick review section that included an outline of the major points likely to be on the test, key terms and definitions, and sources for supplemental reading. I just read the “Transit War Takes a Long Ass Break” chapter. First, please outline a few major points in Transit War history that lead up to the hiatus.

[Laughs.] OK. Starvation, homesickness, just exhaustion. More or less it was really us just touring so much. We didn’t know what was happening with the band. The way Transit War started and ended was just so odd because there was no definitive point like hey, let’s start a band—that never happened with us. We just started playing.  It wasn’t like let’s get four guys. There was no ad on Craigslist, it just started happening. When Jaime and I jumped in it just kind of happened. I never really thought about it until now, but it’s kind of the way it ended, too. It was just the wear of the road. We toured a lot more than—well, I guess I can’t say a lot more than most bands our size, but we toured really, really hard. Not having a real plan going into it, and all of us being mid-twenties and just kind of saying fuck life—we didn’t really think about it, we just did it. I think that led to a lot of the problems that we stated having. It’s hard. Any other band our size will tell you. You go out, you make the money you can, eat when you can, sleep when you can. You drink all the time. I would say if you had to pinpoint anything it was close quarters really quickly, but there was no breaking point. It just happened. When we played our last show two years ago we didn’t realize it was our last show when we were playing. Just put it that way. 

Now, provide one key term and definition that describes the band as we last left it.

Maybe “insecure” would be a good word because we were this band that—like I just told you all the struggles we were having, but at the same time we were reading bigass magazines that we always looked up to and they were praising us. That was kind of weird because we always viewed ourselves as being a dinky local band that said fuck it let’s get out on tour, and then we started growing. So insecurity, I say more than anything, because you see these things getting written around you, and stuff on the internet from different states and countries, album reviews and all that crap, and you’re like fuck—can we handle the pressure and live up to this? In turn, we just kind of stopped playing.

Got it. Fuck the supplemental reading part, that was for the tools in class. So thanks to the Sixth Sense, everyone knows ghosts only hang around because of unfinished business. So if you’re the “Walker told me I have AIDS” kid, what did the ghost of the Transit War whisper to you to convince you to play again?

Oof, man, these are fucking really good questions. I think it was just, “Why are you ignoring something you love?” It really was. I think that rings out for me specifically because Mike and Jim continue to play music, and for me, until we had first Transit War practice getting ready for this show, I hadn’t even set— when I put the drums in the case at the last show, the first time I took them out was at the first Transit War practice. So that’s what really kind of said, “Don’t walk away from something you love,” or “Why are you ignoring it?”

Is picking up the drumsticks again like riding a bike? Or is it like riding a bike when you’re really smashed?

[Laughs.] Definitely, definitely like riding a bike when you’re really smashed. I could still play the same, and surprisingly enough I remembered most of the songs first couple times through, but the thing that’s a bitch is the stamina. We’re talking about it already at practice, and it’s going for all of us because I’ve only seen the other two guys’ bands a couple times, but Transit War was always a really energetic band that played live. When we played live we’d always have a lot of energy. It was never a forced energy at a show—it was just how we played. We would play that way in practice, too. So already in practice all of us are going: two songs. Break. Oh fuck, how are we going to do this? So having the stamina, more than anything. We all kind of looked at each other and said how the fuck are we going to do this? It’s taking so much out of me just to play these songs. But I personally said, and I know Jim agreed with me, let’s just leave everything onstage. I think it would be so much cooler for us to fuckin’ fall down, passed out, literally not being able to play than walk away just like ah, barely sweating, thanks everybody. Who knows what the future of this band is and to walk away,—or to not walk away—to maybe just fall over onstage would be the most important part. And that totally didn’t answer your question. Yes, it’s like playing drums drunkenly. Riding a bike smashed. Yeah.

Whose idea was it to reunite, even if only for this show?

I don’t really know. It just kind of came up, and we did it as a joint effort. We said we should really do this, and we looked at Spell Toronto and said shit, you guys want to do it? I started a thread on Facebook between all the members of Transit War and all the members of Spell Toronto and said you guys want to do this? And we just figured out what time was good. We thought the day before Thanksgiving would be really cool, but Tim [Mays] always has something going on at the Casbah that week. But he offered us the Saturday after, and I kind of threw it out there and surprisingly enough everyone’s like yeah, that works. Then it just started putting itself together. We obviously had to call Jaime in Delaware and say are you going to be able to fly out, and as of about two weeks ago we still weren’t even really sure if he was flying out or not. [Laughs.] So we had him send us his itinerary. But that’s Jaime for you.

Are you just going to blow a conch shell and the Transit War will assemble at the Casbah, or have you guys been in touch?

[Laughs.] Mike, Jim and I have been in touch. We’ve been practicing—the three of us. We’re hoping to blow that conch shell and summon—. Honestly, knowing Jaime the way we do, we’ll probably be at the Casbah waiting for him and we’ll see the plane fly over the Casbah—you know how you see them fly really low? You’ll see Jaime waving out the window like, “Be there in 10 minutes!” That would be true Transit War form. Like ten minutes before we play, where the fuck is Jaime? He hasn’t even set up his gear yet, what the fuck is going on? And he’ll show up with a smile on his face and he’s one of those guys where he could do the worst thing in the world to you and then he does that cheeky little smile that he does, and acts like nothing’s wrong and you’re just like ahh, I love this guy, how could I ever be mad at him. So he’s scheduled to come in the night before, but knowing him I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes ohh, dude, some fuckin’ completely ridiculous excuse, but don’t worry man I’ll be there two hours before the show. That would not be unlikely. [Laughs.] We’d like him earlier though.

Two-word summaries of each of your lives since you fell off the planet. GO.

Jaime—baby, Delaware.

Mike—wife, wow I’m trying to think of something. Wife and Europe. Or wife and traveling.

Jim—art and music. For sure.

And me. [Laughs.] Bull and shit. I don’t know. Two words, [laughs] that’s good. That’s hard.

What’s the quintessential story from back in the day on the road that someday you’ll tell some grandkids, whether they’re yours or not?

OK. We have a really fuckin’ rad Transit War story, but I can’t really tell it because I wasn’t there for it. But it involves Mike Tyson, going to dinner with Mike Tyson, getting him wasted, him passing out in his food, and Jaime challenging him to arm wrestle. But like I said, I don’t know all the details on that, so I can’t tell it. But this one also involves Jaime, and it was Nashville. I think we were on tour with Lostprophets. We went out drinking afterwards, and we were just celebrating, partying, whatever. The bar had pretty much emptied out, and the bartender walks up to me. Apparently I was always like the— either appeared to be the most sober or I looked like the voice of reason of the group.

You?

[Laughs.] Yeah, me. Uh huh. Wait ‘til you meet these guys. So she walks over to me and she says um, that curly haired guy, is that your friend? I’m looking around and am like well I don’t see any curly haired guy. She’s like no the one that was talking to me at the bar the whole time and I was feeding him shots. I was like oh, ok, Jaime, yeah.  Yeah somebody just came out and they said he’s passed out in the bathroom. Fuck, ok, sorry. So I roll in the bathroom, have to push the door open because he’s passed out on the door. He’s passed out, has pissed his pants all over, and we’re like fuck dude, this guy just did this shit again—because he used to wet himself all the time. So we pick him up, and we had to climb like forty stairs to get up to the van—had to climb up this bigass hill/cliff. So we climb these stairs, we’re all like this guy just ruined the night, let’s go, we have a five-hour drive, it’s too late to get a hotel, let’s just fuckin’ hit a truck stop. We’ll pass out for a few hours until the sun comes up, and just finish the drive and then we’ll figure out what to do tomorrow. He’s soaking fucking wet anyway. Alright, cool. So we throw him in the van and we all kind of scatter. We get to a truck stop—hey, this looks good. Kind of start to settle in for the night, and we were pretty used to it. We really loved parking in between trucks because it’d soothe you to sleep and we didn’t necessarily have to tiptoe around or anything like that, but there were no spots so we had to park looking onto the freeway. We were literally probably about 20 yards from the freeway in the Midwest—you know, just flat and you can see everything going on from the street. So we start grabbing our bags and I’m like why are my bags soaking wet? My bag’s wet, too! My wallet’s wet, everything! My jeans are wet! Jaime had pissed again, but twice as much. We had a futon in there; he pissed all over our backpacks, over everything. This guy is passed out. He hasn’t woken up since we tried to get him up from the bathroom. We were so fucking mad at him. We took him out, and we laid him on the side of the freeway. And we remember like man, it’s going to rain or something tonight. We took the futon he was laying on and put it on top of the van so it would dry out.  So we laid him out near the side of the freeway and we put up a stick—like what you see in the cartoons—a stick and a blanket so it was almost like a tent. And we didn’t think much of it and just passed out. Then we get woken up by cops. Jaime was actually the first one woken up because passersby reported seeing a dead body on the side of the freeway. So some cops came out. The truck stop is all surrounded, and we’re all sleeping. It was hot as hell so we had the doors open in the van—we just looked like transients. Fucking renegades on the road. Jaime said he was woken up by a boot right there on his neck and his shoulder. He just heard [in a Southern accent]: Boy! Boy! Wake up, boy! Wake up!  And he was so confused like I don’t know where the fuck I am, just sees these cops over him. And he said he remembers looking at this one cop going: Boy, you need me to take you to WalMart, buy you some Pampers, boy? And he’s like I’m with them, and points to the van. That’s when they came and woke all of us up. We would not talk to him for two days. He just sat there like guys, I’m super sorry. That’s a pretty good story, but there’s tons of stories like that. So that’s how the day ended. I took a shower at the truck stop that day. Seven bucks, I think it was.

I’ve noticed you’ve avoided calling this your “last show ever,” or anything. Is that because there are future plans for the Transit War? Or is this a play-and-see situation?

It’s a little bit of both. Not only that, I think there’s a certain amount of compassion that you expect from people and we were never really that band. When we went through some really obvious shit about six months before we broke up, and it was super obvious. Something that anybody who had been following the band would go and look at and be like what the fuck. We’re the band that said we’re not even going to mention it. Everybody knows, but do we even need to reference this? So we’ve hesitated, I guess for one because everybody else is calling it their last show. I don’t know. I would hate to say that to somebody, and—there’s been a lot of bands saying it’s their last show lately and then they go on to play five more. Which I can understand when you get the bug again, so we’d rather put on a good show and let people assume what they want. We all discussed that. We don’t want to be the ones to say that. 

Orange you glad I didn’t ask about Orange Peal? Too bad, I’m asking now.

Ahh [laughs]. Orange Peal. I feel like we almost convinced Orange Peal to sign us. We went on one of the first hokey tours that we ever did, just fuckin’—we have 10 days booked but let’s make 25 out of it and just tell everybody at home we’ll see you when we see you. That was always the work ethic of Transit War. We rolled out and we played the Bay Area and this guy from a San Francisco record label saw us and gave me a card and was like you guys are cool, man. Alright, cool. So we took off and continued up the coast and then the band that we were out with broke up mid-tour, so all the other shows got cancelled. We’re like fuck, we know these ones got cancelled but we’re still planning on these other ones so we have five days we can kill. We’re up there, so I’m going to call this fuckin’ guy from this record label. I call him, I’m like hey man, we’re going to come crash at your house. He’s like uhh, what? You sure about that? I’m like yeah, man, and convinced him to let us show up there. I don’t think we got to stay there for five days but he let us crash there for a night and that night I played him the “Kerosene” video and our entire record and just kept it on repeat. It wasn’t too long after that they really came after us. But Orange Peal was rad. Obviously it’s a label probably 99.99% of the people who read this will never know, but talk about a label going to bat for a small band. And we always wanted to do what we could for the label, but we got the means to do what we wanted to do. And for about two years there all we wanted to do was be musicians. I think every musician says fuck, man, just give me enough money so I can pay my bills and that’s all I want. That’s all I want, if I could just play music and be able to pay my bills, have that covered. We did that for two years, and that was the coolest thing. They helped us a lot. They had all the faith in the world in us. It was really small—there were only three people at the company. I don’t know if they were scared of us, though. They might have signed us and then continued to give us money and records because they were scared of us. I don’t know, it’s kind of making sense now. [Laughs.] I’m piecing a lot of things together here. They were great guys and some of them have hit us up on Facebook saying they were going to be at the show. I would like for them to see us because they did love the band. I would like for them to almost be proud, you know?

I know Transit War fans Miss Your Face. See what I did there? Hi ho. Where can they find you around town for a beer and a quick hello?

I like that. Well, as recently reviewed in Citybeat’s best places, typically you can find a lot of us at the Tickled Trout keeping our musical aspirations alive over some Sinead O’Connor or some OTown, or anything like that. Jim is always out playing somewhere. He’s got a couple bands, and he’s always out playing somewhere so you can always find him. I kind of dink around and go to SmallBar, Livewire, and stay pretty local. Mike does a lot of the same. He lives in Golden Hill, but he works downtown so a lot of times you can find him out and around there. We’re kind of the divey type, divey bar kind of guys, as you know. Yeah, any places like that. And we like a good brunch. That’s one thing I can say we love in life is a good brunch. So maybe see you at the 94th Aero Squadron too, over a mountain of champagne glasses.

The Transit War play a sold-out show with Spell Toronto and The Strangers Six at The Casbah on Saturday, Nov. 28. 

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