Thursday, 23 June 2011

True Sounds of Liberty (TSOL)

TSOL swept across my circle of friends like wildfire in the early 80's. From the very first imported release it was obvious this band weren't a run-of-the-mill hardcore band, they had something extra.

For the first few years of their existence they took you on pretty much every ride possible, eventually running of out speed in a sad display that left a bitter taste in my mouth. True to TSOL standards they managed to erase that.....

Formed in the late 70's from the ashes of Vicious Circle their first release was a 12'', on Posh Boy records, which was the first release I got to hear via a taped copy; I was instantly a fan.

Released in 1981 this record was politically charged and stands up as well today as the day it was released. 

The band comprised : -

Jack Grisham - Vocals
Ron Emory - Guitar
Mike Roche - Bass
Todd Barnes - Drums

This would be the consistent line-up for the first few years, and without a shadow of doubt, the best/classic line-up.

The band were all big lads and wouldn't take any shit from the audience, which they often got as they weren't afraid of challenging the stereotype, Jack would often wear makeup on stage.

They were also a band who didn't sit still and with their next release they kicked out a gothic classic, still with the drive of the first 12'', but introducing a much darker sound.

Dance with me was released in 1981, on Frontier records, and could lurch from fast hardcore to the astounding beauty of a song like Silent Scream. If there was any doubt this album made it abundantly clear that TSOL had real talent.

Their next release was the Weathered Statues ep released on Alternative Tentacles and was a good continuation from Dance with Me.

Their second long player is my favourite, and was at the time of release, but was the one that was slammed by fans. To parallel the UK's Punk scene a few years earlier, US bands tried to push the envelope and were dismissed by fans for doing so; The Damned and Adverts second albums were slated as were Bad Religions, Code of Honors and TSOLs.

Released in 1982 on Alternative Tentacles they added keyboards to their sound with Greg Keuhn providing the fingers.

This album is a huge departure from this previous releases and received, at best, lukewarm reviews; you can find some here.

 They appeared in the wonderful Suburbia film around this time.

The band had a torrid time on the road with this album resulting in the sad departure of both Jack Grisham and Todd Barnes. 

Ron and Mike recruited Joe Wood and Mitch Dean as replacements and they released the good "Change Today" album in 1984. The album was more rock and even though Ron was still there it didn't really sound like a TSOL album to me. They then released "Revenge" in 1986, I bought this, but must have played it 10 times since that day.

This is where things started to go very, very wrong for me as they released the terrible "Hit & Run" album, by which time Ron had quit the band. An equally horrible release of "Strange Love" followed in 1990 by which time they'd become a poor second rate hair metal band. Joe Wood did a good job on Change Today, but, to me, he dragged a great bands name through the dirt with sub standard formulaic blues/rock albums and I wouldn't give either of these releases shelf space.

In the 90's the original members of the band started to play some live dates, but the rights to the TSOL name were now owned by Joe Wood and Mitch Dean who prevented the originals from playing under that moniker, so they played as LOST......TSOL backwards. This didn't last long enough to produce anything in the studio, but did result in a live album. Drugs had always played a part of the band and this is why this reunion ended.

This could have been the epitaph for TSOL and it would have been a very unfitting and messy end for a very important band. Happily this isn't the case as in the late 90's the original members fought a legal case for the rights to the bands name and won. Unfortunatly around this time Todd Barnes passed away from a brain aneurysm and was replaced by Jay O'Brien.

The reunited original members then released a great 7','Anticop, followed closely by their first studio long player in nearly 20 years. Disappear was released in 2001 on Nitro records and was a great return to form and is a perfect fit with the first four releases.

In 2003 they released "Divided we Fall", again on Nitro and this has become my 2nd favourite TSOL album. The album is a tour de force that has all the elements of TSOL that I love so much, the swirling, atmospheric guitars of Ron, the melody, the pianos/keyboards, the drive, fiery lyrics, a great back beat of bass and drums, finished off with Jacks great voice. You could pick a number of songs from this album and drop them into the early releases and you wouldn't be able to spot them.

In 2006 it appeared the reformation was over as TSOL played some farewell shows, but in 2007 they played some more shows together and in 2009 they released another new album. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of free Downloads" was available to download for a period of time in 2009. The title of this opens up a huge can of worms for me and something I'm struggling with atm...time will tell if it develops.

This is a very good album, if a little softer than DWF, but a fine addition to the TSOL legacy.

I'd be hard pushed to choose a favourite American HC singer, but Jack would be top five, if you throw in the charisma and wit then he'd be number one. I love some of his banter in this vid. It's not the best sound quality, but wtf it's TSOL. You can download a copy this video to your harddrive if you follow the "share" link.



  1. Great write up Neil. One of my alltime favorite bands. Each release sounded different, yet the same. I agree with Beneath The Shadows....THAT album is amazing. Their Damned fixation in full effect for all to see. What I enjoyed about TSOL was the fact that Jack would not be afraid to push the envelope on stage. I have seen them numerous times and probably the best was in 1998 or so. Jack was dressed as a nun (which I saw Dave Vanian do in SF in 1982 supporting the amazing Strawberries album)...the guy has balls! Even their new releases are amazing and it is amazing that after such a long layoff they make albums that rival their old stuff. I have a 4 song thingy that I am going to post which was available for a time on their site...dunno if you have this or not. Great job!
    Ken Days Of Our Youth

  2. Cheers Ken. Yeah I have the 4 song thingy :) but it deserves to be posted so look forward to that.

    I've never seen TSOL live and would love to have seen them around the BTS period...but any period would do me. BTW that site hosting the TSOL live video also has a number of other bands, Subhumans (UK) & MDC to name but two.

  3. Saw them in 82 with Bad Brains and DKs in San Francisco in 1982. Missed them in the next period when they released Beneath The Shadows...though they did play up here a bunch supporting that. Jack Rabid of The Big Takeover wrote that with the punks not accepting that album it was the the beginning of the end for hardcore, or something like that
    Ken Days Of Our Youth

  4. He was probably right in one respect. I like Ian MacKaye's recolections about how the scene exploded with people who were two years behind and how he'd already moved on. The same thing happened here with a massive influx of punks in '82, 18 months later it was pretty much dead.

    Shame...they were fun times.

  5. Early summer 1984. I was at a party. Drunk, I looked at the wall in one of the bedrooms, I see the letters T.S.O.L. Later that summer, at the record store, I come across a cassette...T.S.O.L. Change Today. I pick it up!!! I like the tape but it does not blow me away the way the Sex Pistols tape did only a month before. Here in the Antelope Valley, we are very isolated in the '80 in the way of punk music. Anyway, although I play Change Today quite a lot to like it more, I come across, in 1985(early), Beneath The Shadows on cassette at the Warehouse record store. Recorded in 1982!!! YES!! I listened to it, and found it wishy washy. At that point I just didn't understand T.S.O.L. Well, shortly after I'm at a new record store in our town and I see a new T.S.O.L. record called Dance With Me. I looked at the back cover and it looked cool. I bought it. I liked the record but it had a sorta gloomy sound to it. A diverse album. So, I liked T.S.O.L but they were not faves. In 1987 I was at that 'other' record store, and in the used bin was the T.S.O.L. ep. The first one. I bought it, after looking over it for a while. I put it on my record turntable, and.............I was floored!! Damn, NOW I know why T.S.O.L. was on every punks minds!!!!!!!!!! Great F'N record!!!!! Punk F'N Rock!! Now, 30 years later I have REDISCOVERED 2 T.S.O.L. records. Change Today and Beneath The Shadows. I listen to them now in my late 40's and I really can for the very first time appreciate these 2 recordings that were tossed aside for the most part 30 years ago! I have a renewed love for this band and of these 2 particular recordings. I listen to them much differently now. I enjoy them now and call them 'rocking' much more today than I did back then. Geez!!! Time does change things! I love these 2 records 100% more than I did when I first got them and heard them. Ahead of their time......True Sounds Of Liberty!!!!!!!!!!!!