Greg Hetson has played in some of the most iconic bands in punk rock history. So what, you might ask, would possess the former Bad Religion guitarist to lend his talents to a bunch of drunk amateurs hitting the stage for their first time?
"It's because we get to be in other iconic bands for two or three minutes at a time," he says. "It's a good time."
Hetson's definition of "iconic" may be looser than yours or mine, but in a genre that has always prided itself on its raggedy DIY ethos, there's room for even the most unseasoned singer to get some shine. That's exemplified in an all-star band Hetson founded in 1996 that gives armchair rockstars the chance to belt out their favourite punk tunes backed by some of the genre's biggest names.
Punk Rock Karaoke was formed in a Loz Feliz bar as last-minute entertainment for a New Year's Eve party. Back then, Hetson wasn't convinced the band — nor punk itself — was long for the world.
"We never thought punk rock would last more than a few years when this first started," he says. "Even back in the day in the bands I was playing in, everyone pretty much thought, 'Well, we've only got two years left, we better make the most of it.' And here we are still going strong."
The band has been made up of a rotating cast of punk-rock royalty over the years, and today counts Eric Melvin from NOFX, The Dickies' Stan Lee, Edward Tater from D.I., Steve Soto of Adolescents, and Darrin Pfeifer from Goldfinger and Sum 41. The gang's catalogue of karaoke tunes now stretches close to 70 songs, and, "like a box of chocolates," the guys never really know what they're going to get that moment someone decides to test their mettle in front of a live audience.
"Some of them have practiced and really got it down and some people are just trembling up there. We're mere mortals," Hetson muses.
"The thing is, when the singer's really good, it's great, and when the singer sucks, it's also great. So it's a win-win for us."
Nerves are often a factor for these laymen-turned-rockers, like the guy who got so anxious before his set he threw up right onstage.
"Luckily that only happened once," says Hetson.
Others are, let's just say, better prepared for the spotlight.
"We used to have people who would get into character by putting cigarettes out on their hand or breaking a bottle over their head," recalls Hetson.
However they choose to spend their 15 minutes of fame, the brave souls who hop onstage for Punk Rock Karaoke are, in their own small way, paying homage to the pull-yourself-up-by-the-Doc-Martens origins of punk itself.
"It goes back to the old days where there was really no division between the crowd and band because the crowds were the bands! There were so few people there it was just musicians supporting musicians, and this also gives people who are musicians — and even those who aren't — the chance to get up and have a good time," Hetson says.
Punk Rock Karaoke returns to the GLC on Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. The first 100 tickets are $15, and $20 after that. The full list of songs to choose from can be viewed at originalpunkrockkaraoke.com/song-list.