The 10 best bands from Orange County...

Zebrahead formed in the city of La Habre, in Orange County, California in 1996.

Although he only joined the band in 2013, guitarist Dan ‘The Moustache’ Palmer (Death By Stereo) also grew up in La Habre, where he attended high school with his future band mates.

According to Palmer, their “paths crossed all the time”, which is understandable considering the local scene – particularly back then – was a hotbed of emerging talent.

So when original Zebrahead guitarist Greg Bergdorf resigned in 2013, the band gave their old moustached friend a call and asked him to join their ranks.

“It’s such a small world that everybody gets to see and know each other,” says Palmer. “Everywhere you go you run into people here and there. We still talk about it now in the band. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, you were at that show?’ And one of the other guys will be like, ‘Yeah, I was at that show too, man.”

Indeed, many of the bands that rose to prominence during the 90s punk rock and ska punk revival came from California. And Orange County has a rich punk history dating all the way back to the late 70s.

With so many to choose from, we posed Dan the task of picking the 10 best bands to emerge from the OC.

“I was thinking about a top 10, and at first I was like, ‘Fuck, am I gonna have enough to talk about?‘,” says the guitarist, possibly twirling his moustache. “Then I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’ve gotta narrow it down to 10? It was a real task.”

“I love the Adolescents. They’re one of my favourite bands. I’m friends with those guys too, and they’re great, great dudes. And Steve Soto is an amazing songwriter – him and Tony Cadena. As far as OC punk bands go, they’re one of the most iconic. If you listen to NOFX, you can hear where they get a lot of inspiration. They’re always paying homage to them, and I think that’s really cool. It goes to show how influential that band was. Growing up in California, they’d get played all on the time on the radio: their song Amoeba would always get played on KROQ [LA’s premiere alternative rock radio station]. It became a classic punk rock hit.”

“This was Steve Soto’s other band. They kind of mixed punk rock with surf music. Their song Bloodstains was so heavy, but so melodic too. They had so many good songs. And they still play live all the time. Almost every weekend in California you can see Agent Orange playing in bars around town, and they’re even older than Adolescents – they started in 1979.”

**“D.I. are great. The singer Casey [Royer] is an old scene legend. He’s crazy. He was actually on TMZ [celebrity news website] because he was caught doing drugs, which is kind of an unfortunate way to get found out. But they’re an old school band that released some great records, and alongside Adolescents and Social Distortion, they’re original OC punk legends.”

“You’ve gotta go with Social Distortion. When you think of old school punk icons, Mike Ness is up there with the likes of Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten for the Orange County scene. And they’ll play 30 shows at the House of Blues [American chain of live music concert halls] in a month, and every single show will be sold out. They’re so iconic. And they’ve influenced all kinds of bands: not just punk bands. Look at a band like Volbeat. They remind me so much of Social Distortion, even in terms of style. If you go to Orange Country, you’ll see a hundred guys that look like Mike Ness, with tattoos all over and slicked back hair. He’s a cool guy.”

**“Another one of the bands I have to talk about is Reel Big Fish. We live in the same area and we’ve done so many tours together. They’re such a good, fun band, too. And they’re kind of an integral part of the OC scene, especially during the time around when they came up. Along with No Doubt, they really put Orange County on the map – as far as the mainstream goes. I’ve got a real soft spot for them too, because they’re just such good people. They play down their musicianship, because that’s kind of the nature of the band, but Aaron [Barrett] is an amazing guitar player, and he’s such a good songwriter.”

Zebrahead's Matty Lewis and Dan Palmer

Zebrahead's Matty Lewis and Dan Palmer (Image credit: Sebastian Reuter/Redferns)

“The Offspring are just a fun punk rock band. They’re energetic live, and they write insanely catchy songs. They’re another band that really put Orange County on the map, too. They were one of the biggest bands in the world for quite some time. I went back and listened to the Americana record recently, and it’s like a greatest hits record: every song on there is so catchy and well written. They take chances too, and write goofy stuff here and there, and some people love it and some people hate it. But it’s cool that they take those chances.”

**“I have to go with No Doubt next. They were along the same line as The Offspring in terms up coming up in the ‘90s and putting Orange County on the map. They worked really hard to get to where they were, and they went for years and years playing small clubs without anyone really knowing or caring who they were. So I have to give them props for working so hard to get there. And they certainly came from that ska-punk Orange County scene, even if Gwen [Stefani] did go on to become this huge pop star. Funnily enough, a friend of mine accidentally stole Gwen’s wallet in a bar one night! I won’t say who, but he picked it up by mistake because he was drunk, and I always wind him up about it.”

**“They’re a different kind of band, but I love Avenged Sevenfold and they have a lot of ties in the punk and hardcore world. They’re a great band too, and as a guitarist I really admire their guitar playing. They’re very nice people, too. And they definitely came up through the punk scene, even if they are more synonymous with metal music now. I think they actually used to cover NOFX songs, so it’s funny to look at how they’ve progressed. But I think that’s cool. Certain bands who’ve been around for a while put out the same record every time, and I think it’s cool when bands change up their styles, especially if they do it well. Have you seen all the pyro at their shows now? It’s really a fun show to watch.”

“This next band is a friend’s band. They’re a local upcoming group called True Rivals, and the drummer of Lit plays with them, so they’ve got some Orange County ties there. But they’re just a great punk rock band, and it’s good to see new bands coming up and working really hard. They sound kind of like Rancid meets Social Distortion, with a bit of Stiff Little Fingers thrown in the mix. They’re a great band, they’ve got great energy, and they kill it live.”

“They weren’t strictly speaking an Orange County band, but they’d always be there, playing every single backyard party and show going. It was sad their time was so short lived, but everybody still listens to their songs to this day, because they’re such classic, well written songs. I saw them several times back in the day whilst Bradley [Nowell, deceased singer] was still alive, and they’d always be a total mess, but great at the same time. They would sing about stuff that other bands wouldn’t want to bring up, and I think that honesty is what made them really appealing. And those songs are so good, people will still be listening to them in another 20 years.”

Zebrahead’s new album Walk The Plank is out now. The band are currently on tour. For more details, see their Facebook page.

Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.