Musical nostalgia is an interesting thing. The rosy glow of memory can make the past a lot clearer, and more homogenous, than it actually was. Take the hair metal bands of the late 1980s, for example. As much as we might want to remember it as one giant sleazy party full of poodle-haired, makeup-wearing pretty boys — well, it was mostly that, actually. But not all of the bands that eventually got lumped into the Sunset-Strip hair metal genre were the same.
In fact, Junkyard, whose self-titled debut album was released in 1989, wasn't part of the Sunset Strip metal band axis, something that the band's lead singer David Roach, is still proud of.
"We get called 'strip rock,' and we never set foot on Sunset Strip," he says. "It's not what we ever were."
In fact, if you took that first album and dropped it a few years later, Junkyard's twin-guitar blooze-rock could've fit in alongside a revivalist-style band like the Black Crowes, and Roach's vocal sneer has a lot of punk attitude behind it. And they never did the makeup and poofy hair thing, either; the band was a lot happier in ripped denim and leather than spandex. They never even partook in the long-honored hair metal tradition of the power ballad, unless you count "Hands Off," which, um, climaxes with Roach screaming "You gave him head!" at his unfaithful lover.
They were closer to Guns N' Roses than Warrant, is what we're saying, a sentiment that Roach wholeheartedly agrees with.
"As far as the L.A. scene, Guns N' Roses was what we were trying to go for," he says. "Not the style, but the approach. We weren't the polished, pretty boy thing. If you looked at the other bands that they lumped us in with, you could tell that one of these things is not like the other. We didn't fit the mold. And if you saw us live or listened to us, we differentiated ourselves even more. There was an element of danger to it. A lot of those Sunset Strip bands were squeaky clean and there wasn't that element of danger."
And yet, because they had some superficial similarities to those other bands, Junkyard got tagged with the "hair metal" brand, something that still irks the band.
"Yeah, it bothers me," Roach says. "Thirty years later, we definitely still get lumped in with that: 'Oh, they're an '80s hair metal band.' And that's completely not what we were at all. People like to lump it into something easy to identify."
Perhaps one of the reasons that Junkyard is still "lumped in" with the hair metal era is that the band essentially ended when that era did; they broke up in 1992 after being dropped by their label, Geffen Records. Starting in 2000, the band's original members — Roach, guitarist Brian Baker, drummer Patrick Muzingo, and bassist Todd Muscat — reunited occasionally for some shows overseas and found that there was still an audience for their punkish hard rock. Eventually, people started to notice that they could still put asses in the seats.
"We started getting more offers, and someone approached us about doing an album," Roach says. "And we said, 'Why not?' That was a catalyst to get us out touring more. We played like 30 shows last year, which is more than we've played in a long time, and we hope to play twice as many this year."
Junkyard now features guitarists Tim Mosher and Jimmy James (Baker left in 2017), and their current live set is evenly divided between songs from that reunion album, 2017's High Water, and their first two. Roach says that the job now is to get the word out about their reunion.
"We're kind of starting over, in a sense," he says. "Releasing an album 26 years after the fact is essentially starting over. We still have a fanbase that still listens to rock 'n' roll, but in a sense, we have to let people know that we're back and we're out there again. It's taken a little while to get the word out to the people that remember us, and we're trying to find some new fans, too."
But things are different now than they were in 1989, and Roach says it's not as easy being in Junkyard as it used to be.
"There was a bigger platform back then," he says. "There were more outlets for us. MTV was still playing music, there were more rock stations out there, it was easier to navigate as a rock 'n' roll band. I can't imagine what it's like for a young band trying to get people's attention. We had it easy. In L.A. in the '80s, there was a huge rock 'n' roll scene. You could write some songs and get a little attention and you were almost guaranteed to get signed. That's not the case anymore. But I didn't understand the music business then, and I sure as hell don't understand it now."
So if it's that hard, why do it? Why would a group of 50-plus year-old guys go out and play shows in smallish clubs? It's certainly not for the money, and Roach says the band has had to adapt their touring practices for the times, and for their own day jobs.
"There are no long tours anymore," he says. "We do flyouts over the weekend and hit a region of the country. We can't do a six-week tour, paying for hotels and playing for fifteen people. We barely break even as it is. At this point, you gotta do it for the love of the game. We've all been in the business long enough to know the reality: You're not going to be a millionaire unless Brad Paisley or somebody does a song you write, and you make royalties off it. Making money needs to be low on your priority list for doing this in this era. But I'm happy to do it, because it's still fun."