ALL-AGES DIALOGUES, PART VI: JIM WARD of At the Drive-In, Sparta (Arthur, 2006)

The ALL-AGES Dialogues: A conversation with Jim Ward
by Jay Babcock

This interview was conducted by phone in late summer 2006, as part of a series of conversations I was doing with various folks regarding the history of all-ages, philosophy/ethic of all-ages, the state of play of all-ages, yadda yadda.

When we did this interview, Jim was 30 years old and operating his band Sparta full-time, continuing on from his work as a member of the legendary At the Drive-In, which he co-founded as a teenager in 1994 in El Paso, Texas.

This conversation shoulda been published long ago but stuff kept going awry and we didn’t get it in the mag. My apologies to Jim, and to the readers. Hopefully this piece will be of use to present-day readers. — Jay

Previously in this series:
Interview with John Sinclair (MC5 manager, activist, poet-historian)
Interview with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski Sextet)
Interview with Calvin Johnson (K Records, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System)
Interview with Greg Saunier (Deerhoof)

Interview with Will Oldham

Arthur: When you first started venturing outside of El Paso to play music, how did you do it?

Jim Ward: Well, I got a copy of Book Your Own Fucking Life, and I just started calling. My grandparents has set aside some money for college for me, like a hundred dollars a year or something like that, it wasn’t very much. But when I graduated [from high school], it was a couple grand, and so I bought a van, a $1,300 1981 Ford Econoline, with some help from my parents who were really supportive of what I did. And, yeah, just started calling people.

Were you still going with the all-ages ethic?

Yeah, basically there were no bars and booking agents in there. You were just calling somebody who was doing shows at their parents’ restaurant after it closed, or at a community center or a house. Then you just went out and played those, and from those you would meet people who were somewhat like-minded. I was 18 when I started touring, so I couldn’t even be in the bars. In L.A. in 1996, it was pretty hard to be all-ages, so you would end up playing a bar and just sitting in the parking lot all night. You were allowed to go in and play and leave.

Like a servant.

[Laughs] Yeah, sort of. I mean, I understood the rules and it wasn’t really … we weren’t really there to party or anything, we were just there to play.

It must have been strange to play places where a bunch of people were excluded.

Yeah, whenever we would end up in bars or places like that, when you had to get that show, it was rare that anyone was there, or that it was very exciting… Which I understand now at my age: to go to a bar and have some loud, crazy band playing? It’s not always what you want to do on a Friday night. But when you’re 18, 16, 15 … that’s everything in the world to you. The louder and crazier and more abstract the better.

That’s the thing: The under-21s are open to stuff.

Yeah, you’re looking for something that’s yours. You don’t necessarily want something that’s established. You want to discover, that age is all about discovery. Which is why bands come out of that culture, because it’s this intense batch of people trying to find themselves and find each other, and I love it.

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