Formed in 1978 in Long Beach, California, T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty) are one of the most influential, controversial, and craziest bands to come out of the Hardcore Punk movement. The band traces its origins to the demise of singer Jack Grisham and drummer Todd Barnes' band Vicious Circle and the formation of a new group that had heard of the two and wanted them in their band. With guitarist Ron Emory and bassist Mike Roche rounding out the numbers, the group quickly made a name for themselves in the booming California punk scene, aided by Jack Grisham's knack for getting into trouble, with tales of commercial burglary, grave robbing, violence, destruction of property, and drunken exploits becoming legendary among those who followed the band. In 1981, the band teamed up with Posh Boy Records to release a self-titled EP. Clocking in just shy of eight minutes, the record received immediate acclaim, however the band felt that Posh Boy wasn't a good fit for themselves and jumped ship for a new label to release the Dance With Me LP in the same year. While the EP featured radical leftist lyrics and buzzsaw guitar appropriate for the punk scene, Dance With Me flirted with a deathrock sound and featured lyrics that geared more towards horror and gothic themes than political ones.
To the surprise of no one, this album was also a success, and T.S.O.L.'s fanbase grew with every show, fueled both by the music and by the violence now inherent to the band. Within the next year, the band jumped labels again, this time settling with Alternative Tentacles to release the Weathered Statues EP. Much like the album before it, the album experimented with more experimental/gothic sounds - a process that continued with their next full length album, 1982's Beneath the Shadows, which added keyboardist Greg Kuehn to pursue a sound more akin to The Damned or Siouxsie and the Banshees. Although critically acclaimed (even snagging the band a cameo in Suburbia), the albums were both rejected by the now codified hardcore punk community.
Despite sell-out crowds and rave reviews from critics, Jack had grown disillusioned with the violence and police presence following the band in addition to the sheep-like tendencies of the audiences that followed the band. After a notable show where Jack commanded the crowd to sit down in protest of a police raid to force the police to drag the audience out one by one - immediately followed by a command to attack the police (which was followed without hesitation), Jack quit the band in disgust; drummer Todd Barnes also took leave, leaving Emory and Roche to continue T.S.O.L. with singer Joe Wood and drummer Mitch Dean. Grisham continued playing gothic music in a project dubbed Cathedral of Tears, while the new T.S.O.L. lineup released four more albums that took the group in a more hair metal influenced direction. Gradually, Emory and Roche quit the band, leaving T.S.O.L. with no original members remaining, but with a band that still used the True Sounds of Liberty name playing shows.
By this time, however, Grisham had committed to sobriety and renounced his former criminal ways after a rather nasty fall from grace (as the man himself put it, people began saying "Do you know who that was?") and had regrouped with the original T.S.O.L. lineup to play shows as T.S.O.L., often on the same nights in the same cities as the "original" T.S.O.L., which they had no legal right to do, leading them to often play shows as "LOST". This continued until 1999, when the Grisham-led T.S.O.L. won the right in court to play as T.S.O.L., which they immediately did on the Vans Warped Tour that year. Tragically, Todd Barnes died of an aneurysm at the end of 1999, leading the band to recruit drummer Jay O'Brien. This lineup released two albums, 2001's Disappear and 2003's Divided We Stand the latter of which featured the return of Greg Kuehn on keyboards. The band continued until 2006, when they announced that they were breaking up. This, however, only lasted a year until the band began playing shows and eventually touring and releasing albums again, the most recent of which was 2017's The Trigger Complex. To this day, T.S.O.L. still tours and plays shows across the United States with the vast majority of the classic lineup (and a rotating cast of drummers) intact.
Their (major) albums include:
- T.S.O.L. (1981)
- Dance With Me (1981)
- Beneath the Shadows (1983)
- Change Today? (1984)
- Revenge (1986)
- Hit and Run (1987)
- Strange Love (1990)
- Disappear (2001)
- Divided We Stand (2003)
- Who's Screwing Who? (2005)
- Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Free Downloads (2008)
- The Trigger Complex (2017)
Tropes that apply to T.S.O.L.:
- The Alleged Car: Jack's 1966 Chevy Nova station wagon, which carried around himself and his group of troublemaker friends. He described it as "threatening", having painted it (and some of the windows) all black to disguise it after chasing some kids with it. It also featured a Death's Head in a wreath stenciled on the back and a middle finger salute on the roof with the words "FUCK YOU, SKY PIGS" written underneath the finger.
- Anarchy Is Chaos: The self-titled EP had elements of this in its lyrics, which Jack derided as puerile and uninformed in later years.
- Author Existence Failure: Original drummer Todd Barnes died of an aneurysm on December 6, 1999.
- HeelFace Turn: Jack Grisham went from being a deranged troublemaker who had no problems with casual violence, burglary, and other acts he described in his memoir as the acts of a "demon" to a father of two with thirty years of sobriety under his belt who speaks for Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Honey Trap: One of Jack's favorite methods for getting into fights back in the day: perch a young boy in a dress against the wall of the local liquor store and instruct him to force visual contact with anyone who walked by, wait for wannabe tough guys to try and "tease the little punk faggot", and then swarm the victims with a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
- I Have Many Names: Jack went by multiple pseudonyms with each new T.S.O.L. record, both to confuse audiences (he recalls one review stating that "the band gets worse with every new singer") and to hide his identity from the police - a necessary precaution considering the trouble he caused.
- I Love the Dead: The band's Signature Song "Code Blue", about a man who prefers corpses over live women because he can "do what I want and they don't complain".
- Refuge in Audacity: The self-titled EP thanks a church the band had robbed for the P.A. and the instruments.