How the Buzzcocks changed my life, by John Feldmann

Buzzcocks
(Image: © Fin Costello\/Redferns)

John Feldmann is an American musician, songwriter, record producer and A&R man. He’s produced and co-written songs for the likes of Good Charlotte, Panic! At The Disco, Black Veil Brides, All Time Low and 5 Seconds Of Summer. In fact, the albums he’s worked on have grossed over 34 million sales worldwide. But all that might not have happened had a friend not played him the Buzzcocks’ third album…

Growing up in Northern California in the ‘80s was a very interesting time for music. A lot of radio stations were still playing Styx, REO Speedwagon, Steppenwolf and the Steve Miller Band, and other mid-70s classic rock bands. But all those five-minute songs with the guitar solos felt like the older generation to me. When I first discovered punk rock, it was actually British punk that came through my doorway first.

This kid moved to my neighbourhood from Lake Tahoe and he was in a punk band called Urban Assault. He had an amazing record collection. The first record he played me was Never Mind the Bollocks [Here’s the Sex Pistols], but the second record he played me was A Different Kind of Tension – I want to say that was the Buzzcocks’ third album – and that had a far greater impact on me.

It had this crazy orange and yellow cover with all these rectangles and triangles and circles. It was a very arty album cover, and the way they had ‘cocks’ in their name blew my mind: I was a teenage kid jerking off five times a day, and here’s this band called the Buzzcocks. Before I even heard the music I already liked the band.

I think he played me You Say You Don’t Love Me first, which was also the first song I sat down and learnt how to play on bass guitar. I taught myself how to play bass in my first band Family Crisis to that song. The kick drum and the bass drum locked in so perfectly too, and it was a heartbreak song written by Pete Shelley [guitarist and singer in the Buzzcocks] about his own personal heartbreak, as opposed to songs on Never Mind the Bollocks about riding the tube (I had no idea what they were since we don’t have underground trains in California) and the dole: I only knew Dole as a banana brand [Dole Food Company], so I just thought riding the tube and eating the banana were these weird sexual references.

But the Buzzcocks spoke my language. They were talking about heartbreak and falling in and out of love and all these things that I could relate to. I was a super hopeless romantic growing up and all I watched was John Hughes movies. I was obsessed with the idea of true love and finding that soul mate, and Pete Shelley had such a great way of singing about those ideas.

From that first experience listening to them, I went back and got Singles Going Steady from Tower Records. Their imported section was the only place I could find Buzzcocks’ records because the band weren’t really played on the radio and no one really knew about them, and only three people in my entire high school listened to punk rock. When I first heard that record I thought it was the best album ever made. Ultimately, after doing some research I found out it was a collection of all the singles from their first few albums, which were only released in the UK and Europe.

On the cover there was a picture of them in the studio with all these wires and cables hanging out of their guitars and plugged into their amps, and as a young kind I remember thinking, ‘These guys are actually recording an album together as a live band,’ unlike the REO Speedwagon albums that sounded so glossy and not real to me. Buzzcocks sounded like a real band that actually played together. They were all wearing suits too, and they looked so cool and British. They really lined up with all the shit that I wanted to be: looking smart and writing really concise pop songs about heartbreak.

I guess everyone claims that Descendents were the first pop-punk band, but to me the Buzzcocks are truly the first pop-punk band that ever existed. They wrote simple, hooky, amazingly written pop songs on hyper-drive, like superfast 180bpm punk rock.

The first proper tour Goldfinger ever did was supporting the Buzzcocks, too. In ’96 we were able to support the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks, and then we went and supported No Doubt, who were our contemporaries at the time. It was so great to be able to meet Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley and tell them how much they influenced me. I don’t think they gave a shit, but whatever: I was really stoked to be a part of that tour.

So that band absolutely shaped my musical career. And I still play them to bands that I work with now, since for all intents and purposes the majority of the work that I do is in the pop-punk genre, and the Buzzcocks are absolutely the most influential pop-punk band.

Buzzcocks are on tour from September.