The Specials

Punk Globe: Thanks for doing this interview Tom, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Tom Lyle: I was born in a cross-fire hurricane, and I howled at my ma in the driving rain, but its all right now, in fact, it’s a gas. Sorry about that, those are the lyrics to a Rolling Stones song that I always think of when asked about my life. OK, honestly, you are the first person to ask me about my life. But still, my favorite version of that song was played by Iron Cross, which really puts the original to shame. But that’s another story. I joined the band Government Issue for my first show October 31, 1981 when I played bass, and then within six months I switched to guitar. We played our last show June 1, 1989.
Punk Globe: Government Issue has been sort of a who's-who of the 80s DC punk scene, so what was your favorite line up of GI?
Tom Lyle: That really depends. One day I’ll think that it was the line-up on the last two albums with Jay and Pete as the rhythm section. We got to tour more, too, so we always either playing shows or recording, which was the goal all along, wasn’t it. But when I listen back to that stuff now, sometimes it sounds too polished -- I’ll think we were better off in the earlier days when I was more out of tune, sloppier, and angrier at the world. Back then every show was like an event, every studio session a super special occasion. I listen to the earlier stuff and we had so much pent up energy and seem to have something to prove. But the middle period when we were going through changes musically, trying to stretch the boundaries of what could be considered punk would sometimes be my favorite. But then I’ll realize that the later period sounds to me like what we were musically striving for all those years up until then. Plus I was able to have a small wall of Marshalls behind me by then. Now that I think of it, I just hate every phase equally. But not because of the others in the line up of the time, everyone else was always pretty cool. It was me who was an asshole, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to everyone.
Punk Globe: Tell us about the most recent incarnation of the group if you please.
Tom Lyle: You mean the reunion show we played in DC in ’07? That really came about by luck, or actually, the lack of luck, as far as John was concerned. Ever since we broke up in 1989 we have never had a serious thought of ever playing together again. They only reason we finally got together, and it really wasn’t a full-on reunion if you want to get technical, was to help John pay his surgery bills. I found out that 76% Uncertain from Connecticut was going to play at a benefit for John in DC. I’m friends with Bones, their singer, and said it would be cool if I could sit in on a couple of songs during their set. Next thing I find out is that John wants to sing a few songs with them, too. Next I find out is that the set is getting longer and longer, and then I find out that everyone wants a full set of GI songs. Next thing I get in my in-box is a flyer calling our set Government Re-issue, with William the drummer from 76%, and Brian Baker on bass. We never played with William before, so we did like a mini practice during the sound check. That’s a bit of a stretch saying was it was because of William, the rest of us hadn’t played those songs for like a century either. But the night was a blast, plus we raised a lot of money for John. My favorite part of our set was when a young lady flew full force out of the crowd into the drum set. That brought back memories.
Punk Globe: What were your first thoughts when you heard John Stabb was attacked?
Tom Lyle: First of all, I was blown away that it happened in his neighborhood, which I always thought of as a quiet suburban community. Then as the details of his injuries became clear it made me sick to my stomach, and I followed very closely to what benefits and other methods of fund raising were going on. I gave what I could, but in the end I guess playing the benefit with those guys was the best I could have done to help him.
Punk Globe: Is there a family aspect to Government Issue?
Tom Lyle: No, not really. OK, yes, in a way. John and I have been through a lot together. Nine years is a long time to be in a band that was struggling for most of our existence. John used to joke, at least I think it was a joke, that we hated each other like brothers.
Punk Globe: Do you think nostalgia for the 80s hardcore scene is manufactured or genuine coming from the punks of today?
Tom Lyle: I guess there’s many ways of looking at it. Some of my favorite music of all time was manufactured. The Monkees “Stepping Stone” is a great song, and was one of the first songs I was ever able to play on guitar from beginning to end. But that’s probably not what you mean. I don’t care what the reason that leads someone to get into great music like Bad Brains or Minor Threat. It is all about the music. At least as far as I’m concerned. All that other shit like adopting a straight-edge attitude, or a fuck everything mind-set, or an anarchist stance that might come about because of the influence that comes from interacting with people on the scene is extra. Hopefully, the extra stuff will be good, like standing up for what you believe in. But that still probably didn’t answer your question.
Punk Globe: Do you still go to punk shows? If so what do you think of the current scene in DC?
Tom Lyle: I’m not living in DC anymore, but still, it would be a rare occasion to go to any new young band’s show at like a community center or something. I might look a little silly at a hardcore show now, wouldn’t I? If I saw a guy like me at a show at the Wilson Center in DC in 1983 I might think he was some kind of weirdo. Or maybe a dad looking for his kid. But come to think of it, times have changed, haven’t they. I see parents taking their kids to shows all the time now. I wish my parents had at least one molecule of musically cool genes in them.
Punk Globe: How did that long-haired, glittery "Strange Wine" video come about?
Tom Lyle: When on tour in the US and we had a day off in a small town and we didn’t have to get our van or some band equipment repaired, we got bored. One of the things we would do is go to the mall to kill time. We weren’t party animals, that’s for sure. When we were in Biloxi Mississippi at the mall we saw in the back of a chain record store one of these “be a star in your own music video” signs. They would take any record, and you could lip-sync to the song. We asked them if we could supply our own record and they said sure. One take later with a single fixed camera in front of a green screen with a stock background and we made our first and only staged music video. The long hair was because we were rock stars. Or maybe because on the road for about two years and three quarters of the band never got a hair cut. Or maybe we grew our hair just to piss people off. I don’t remember.
Punk Globe: With a name like Government Issue, people have mistaken you for a political group. What's your stance on the inclusion of politics in music?
Tom Lyle: Well, you’d really have to ask John about the lack of political lyrics in our tunes, that’s his department, he wrote all the lyrics. And his focus on the personal rather than the political was mostly his choice. But for me, the inclusion of lyrics with political content isn’t going to make a band good or bad. Some of my favorite bands have lyrics that were very political, like Crucifix. But the politics aren’t the only reason why I like them. It is some of the most intense hardcore I’ve ever heard, that’s why I like them. But I guess if they sung about puppy dogs and flowers it might sound a little strange.

Government Issue got its name from the Black Market Baby song “World At War”, where he sings “I Wanna Be A GI”. It’s a song about being bored, which I could definitely relate to at the time. It wasn’t a right wing pro war song, or even an anti-war song that’s for sure, at least I don’t think it was.
Punk Globe: Will we ever see a full on GI reunion?
Tom Lyle: Nope.
Punk Globe: You were in a band called Glee Club, right? What was that like and what about your two solo albums?
Tom Lyle: Glee Club was me and John having fun. In late 1984 early 1985 we went into a studio that the sound engineer from the 9:30 Club owned, and made up the album as we went along. It took a few months, we would do a song every couple of weeks. We were getting into more obscure music at the time and thought that the stuff would be inappropriate for inclusion in GI, and if you listen to the stuff I have no doubt in my mind you would agree with me on that. I played about ninety five percent of the instruments, and John did the singing. I guess you’d call the type of music post-punk if you had to put a label on it. It was pressed on vinyl, but never released on CD. I personally think it is a great album, I wouldn’t mind someone re-releasing it, even though I never thought much about doing that.

And my solo albums? The less said about them, the better. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Punk Globe: Which do you enjoy more, playing in bands or playing music solo?
Tom Lyle: In bands. But nowadays I prefer being a more behind the scenes type of guy. I like producing, but since I left DC I don’t get many calls for that. But I do a lot of mastering at my own place, and I think I’m pretty good at that. A lot of people record stuff on their own now, I take what they’ve done and make it sound like a record, if you know what I mean. I’ve also done some re-issues and compilations for people made from different sources because sometimes the original masters are lost. I have good equipment for that type of stuff. Plus a good set of ears, I like to think.
Punk Globe: Are you doing anything now musically speaking?
Tom Lyle: Nothing serious, other than listening to it. Constantly.
Punk Globe: Have fans ever thanked you personally for the inspiration they took from GI?
Tom Lyle: Once in a while, but not too many times, really. I bet John gets all sorts of fan e-mail, though, he was the lead singer after all. I was back in the shadows. I have a myspace page, and every once in a while someone will contact me and say a word or two. Sometimes they’ll write about guitar stuff. It’s funny, I never considered myself a very good guitarist. I have small hands, and I have to kind of cheat on a lot of the chords. But I guess that ended up giving me my own sound. For better or worse. But what makes me happy is that sometimes I’ll get contacted by someone who has just discovered our music and likes it. New fans after all these years, who would have thought?
Punk Globe: Thanks for the interview Tom, take care. Any final comments?
Tom Lyle: If anyone is curious, we have two double CDs on Dr. Strange Records with just about the entire catalog on them, and a new ep with live songs from 82 and 83 on DC-Jam. So borrow them from a friend and burn copies for yourself.

Government Issue

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