Why? Things Burn: Issue 77, May 1995



Can I tell you what I love about being a SLUG hack? Well, besides the incredibly high salary and excellent benefits, I love the bands I get to interview. Make no mistake faithful followers, I only use the interview as a vehicle—an excuse if you will—just to talk with some of the coolest and talented people in the music business today. 

Recently I spoke with R.J. Vasquez, the lead singer/songwriter of Why?Things Burn. Let me tell ya, it confirmed all of my reasons for kicking this stuff out. Not only does the man have his own band, he also owns and manages his own label, Todo O Nada/T.O.N. Music. ‘Todo O Nada” means “All or Nothing.” That’s pretty fitting considering the way R.J. does things. Vasquez writes some of the most universally timeless music of this decade, and to me his music is inspiring. 

It’s been a while since Why?Things Burn last played in Utah. I asked Vasquez if he remembered the last time he played here and if he enjoyed it. “The last time we were there was about a year and a half ago,” Vasquez said, “I was really surprised. The scene is pretty healthy. As far as I could tell, it seemed like everybody supports each other, there is a consistency with the kids. There’s a tight music community there that I wasn’t aware of and it was nice to see that. I forgot who it was, but there was a band there that asked us if we had a place to stay and if we wanted to party with them, and we did. I feel comfortable there. It was cool.” 

Why?Things Burn hail from the City of Angels, but they sound nothing like a band from L.A. (which I happen to think is a good thing). W?TB released their first full length, Symbols, last September. Their debut release was a CD 5 in 1992 titled Sanctum, followed with a 7″ color vinyl in 1993 called “Pure Sin.” 

Earlier this year, they released a split 12” with Pigmy Love Circus, (another killer band on the T.O.N label.) “Sanctum” was a result of Vasquez dealing with the death of this grandfather, earlier in 1992. Symbols is an extension of “Sanctum” in the form of the source for the material. 

“My grandfather passed away during that time period,” said Vasquez. “That actually gave me the strength, believe it or not [to write the music]. Everything was falling apart, but everything also had life to it. Overall it was very positive, even though under those circumstances there was so many negative forces involved.” 

Vasquez said that he works better under pressure. With the death of his grandfather, who also happened to be his father figure, it was as if his life was crumbling all around him. Yet, those deeply personal experiences gave him the insight and emotions to write songs that strike a universal chord in all of us to work through the pain and exorcise our own demons.True artists use their art as an extension of their emotions and what is happening in their life at that moment. Rollins has called his work poor man’s therapy. Roger Waters basically wrote about his life up to that point and called it The Wall. Vasquez calls his latest album Symbols, because of the origin of the songs and what they represent to him. 

“If it comes from the heart, if it comes from the real side, the emotional side of a human, it [the music and lyrics] will stand, “Vasquez said. “If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons it just doesn’t stand. And I could name bands the on radio now that do it for the wrong reasons. They talk about garbage. They talk about nothing. They’re doing it just for the moment. A song to me should be timeless. I’m not a great musician, but I can write something that makes you think.” 

It’s only through all too real circumstances do we get true, honest, original writing. Songwriting that comes alive on your home stereo system. Song writing that sneaks up behind you and bites you in the ass if you’re not careful. If you dont believe me, pull out your old Poison records. Listen to them and-wonder no more where Brett Michaels and the boys have gone. 

Vasquez is focused and he has no hidden agenda. “I’m not looking to be a rock star, I’m pretty much over that crap. I just want to make good songs that withstand time. That’s what I’m all about.” 

If you are tired of the hyped-up bullshit that is passing for music and you are looking for something with a little more substance, check out Symbols by Why?Things Burn. If you can’t find it in your favorite CD shop, call T.O.N. Records toll free at 1-800-21PURESin, I’m sure they will be happy to hear from you.

Read more from the SLUG Archives here:
Interview: Shudder to Think
Interview: Consolidated