We Want the Punk
Agent Orange drops smashing surf-punk on New Monterey.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
About 30 years ago, the Orange County surf-punk trio Agent Orange headed to Los Angeles with a low-grade 7-inch demo of their angsty “Bloodstains” in tow. The goal of the not-so-well-thought-out mission was to get the EP into the hands of KROQ’s DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, aka “The Mayor of Sunset Strip,” one of the most influential forces on radio and in the underground music scene at the time.
“We climbed up the back stairs of the radio station, knocked on the door and asked for Rodney,” says singer-guitarist Mike Palm. “That was the very beginning and probably the most important moment for us, because when [Bingenheimer] started playing us on KROQ, everybody tuned in.”
What started as a small circle of fans in Orange County eventually grew into a following that now circles the globe. AO’s unconventional punk rock had no trouble drawing a large fan base during the early Southern California hardcore punk scene partly because they weren’t a punk cliché: Their songs often ran longer than the 2-minute standard and some of them fused punk and surf rock. Now a senior professor on the scene, Palm says he owes his own surf rock education to his older brother, who worked at Fender, which is known for producing the quintessential surf tone.
“[Surf music] was something that was always around me,” Palm says.
The schooling has spread from there. Over the years, AO’s melding of punk and surf music has been an obvious inspiration to everyone from Sublime and 311 to The Offspring and L7, who even covered “Bloodstains.”
In addition to a trunkful of originals, AO is also known for kick-ass covers, ranging from Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” to Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.”
That helps make Agent Orange, along with Minor Threat and JFA, one of the definitive skate-punk bands.
“Surfing, skating, skiing and eventually snowboarding are things I grew up with,” Palm says. “For me, to combine high energy music with high energy action sports seemed to make perfect sense.”
Three decades after bombarding Bingenheimer in Los Angeles, Palm is the only original bandmember standing, but that doesn’t mean AO will be going away any time soon. In fact, Palm says the band’s popularity continues to grow with the younger generations coming out to catch the band live.
“We’ve been busier in the past five years than we have our entire career,” Palm says.
To this day, after playing thousands of shows, Palm’s favorite song to play live is the less-than-2-minute eruption, “El Dorado.”
“It’s always been the shortest and fastest song in our set,” he says.
In contrast, Palm says the longer tunes like the classic “Living in Darkness,” which surpasses the 4-minute marker, usually gets kicked to the curb at live shows.
From early on, the middle-aged punk rocker knew he didn’t want to do something that would be fleeting.
When asked if he ever thought Agent Orange would still be around more than three decades later Palm pauses before speaking.
“I kind of did,” he says. “I see it now in the faces of the kids that weren’t even around when we formed. They know everything about us. They know the band’s history. They know every song and they know every note.”