Interview with Jeff Fortson
April 18, 1998
North Park College
Interviewed by Linda T. Stonehocker
The fierce-looking straw-topped focal point on stage is intense in his fun. His delivery cuts through the sensory overload of a six-band line up to create an unforgettable impression. This is a communicator whose stagemanship matches his style. Punk proponents are never subtle, but few have incorporated as much black ink on and under their skin for the cause as Jeff Fortson of Squad 5-O. Sitting with the likeable, polite young man before the show, the source of his strength becomes obvious. He loves what he does. Like punk itself, our interview with the lead singer/guitarist/song writer for Squad 5-O was packed with superlatives.
Tollbooth - You seem to have a good relationship with your audience.
Fortson - Yeah! I love the kids, because I am one of those kids. Granted, I'm twenty-two, now. I'm getting pretty old. I mean, I'm getting married. I'm not living the carefree lifestyle I used to live when I was seventeen, eighteen, but I am those kids. I'm the kid in the crowd cheering for the band that they like. I'm the kid in the crowd dancing, and working off my aggression, and fellowshipping with my brothers. I've been that kid so many times. It's weird now that we're on the stage in front of it all. I think we have such a good relationship with the crowd because we know who they are. I think that's why God is doing a lot with the underground music like us, Dear Ephesus, and Johnny Respect. God's reaching kids on that level.
I hope when kids look at
us they see someone they can relate to. They don't see this rock star that
they can't approach, that is larger than life. They just see someone who
is on their level who understands where they are coming from. We're three
kids from the South who go across the country meeting new kids, hoping
to lead some to Christ and hoping to encourage some in Christ who have
already found Him. We know how it is to be down there in the audience,
and a lot of times we still are down there
We might pretend to be rock'n'rollers on stage, and do a lot of heavy metal moves, but it's all in fun. We don't take ourselves very seriously. We try to portray Christ's love in everything we do. I know we fall short a lot of times, but hopefully kids see Christ.
Tollbooth - How long have you all been together?
Fortson - Two years. We're based in Savannah, Georgia. John, the bass player, and I are identical twin brothers. We've been playing music together for seven years, since we were freshmen in high school. Squad 5-O has only been around for about two years. Our drummer, Jason, has been with us about a year. Last Cornerstone was one of Jason's first shows with us. We played the Underground Stage. Very exciting. One of our best live experiences ever.
Tollbooth - Why was Cornerstone Festival such a highlight for you?
Fortson - The whole Cornerstone
experience for us was a very spiritual time for us. It was the second Cornerstone
I had been to. We went the year before with a bunch of friends from Georgia.
I would never have imagined then that a year later we would be playing
it! This time we got to play and bring our message of hope and unity to
the kids. It was a very moving experience for us, more than anything we'd
ever imagined, and I always have a pretty big imagination. To top it off,
we were home about a
Cornerstone totally blew our minds on all levels-on a spiritual level, on a physical level, the fellowship that is there. It's so much more than music. And I think our band is about more than the music. As far as we're concerned, the music is just our medium to reach the kids. It's got to go past that. I don't love music. I like music, I like to play music, but it's not the most important thing in my life. Much more important to me is if someone, just one person a year--if just one person in the whole existence of this band--comes to know Christ through it. Then it's worthwhile to me, which is what happened at Cornerstone.
Tollbooth - If you don't mind, how do you categorize your music?
Frotson - I don't mind categorizing us. I call us just straight up punk. Some people call us ska, because we have ska undertones, and some ska parts, but as far as the way we play, and the way I think about us when we play, we're a punk band.
Tollbooth - How did you settle on punk as a style?
Fortson - It was easy to play. I'm not the most talented musician, though both my brother and our drummer are very talented. Also, I listened to a lot of old school punk bands, the faster stuff. Minor Threat and Seven Seconds are some of my favorite bands style-wise. They were always focused and directed. They had a goal. Instead of just music, just singing songs about how bad the world was and how stupid people were, they sang songs about making the youth of America better, focusing youth on being positive role models instead of all the negativity they were getting in the world. These bands weren't Christian bands, but I always admired how they had a message like that.
What we saw was an opportunity and a calling where God said, "You like this music, you can play this music. These guys were basically preaching a message to the kids back in the 80's. You can do the same, except you can give a complete message. You can make it so much more than a moral lifestyle." The Bible says our good deeds are like dirty rags to God. We can show them that it is not just about being moral; it's about having a relationship with God. It kind of came out of the whole straight-edgething. I admire the integrity those guys have, but it falls short just like anything else if it doesn't have Christ, because you can only take it so far. You need Christ to take you the rest of the way. That's why we play what we play. It is a way to express what the bands we love were trying to say, but with what we feel is a fuller extent.
Tollbooth - When did your first record come out?
Fortson - Last May.
Tollbooth - Any plans for another one?
Fortson - We finished recording our new album in February with Aaron Sprinkle of Poor Old Lu. He's in Rose Blossom Punch now. We worked with him for two weeks. It should be coming out late this month or early next month. There haven't really been any ads out for it yet. It was kind of rushed on us and hectic, but it should definitely be out before Cornerstone. It's always better at any show when kids have heard the songs before. They can sing along and respond to them.
As far as the album goes, it's a little more mature and better produced than the first one, because we had more time and money to work with.We're excited about it.
Tollbooth - Does it stay true to punk?
Fortson - Yes, basically along the same lines, just better production. It's called Fight the System. A lot of the songs on it are based on spiritual issues. The title song and a couple of the other songs are based on Ephesians 6:13 where Paul encourages the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God and to take their stand against the evil one and the spiritual forces of this world. If there is a theme to the album, I would have to say that's it.
It's not real deep, theological stuff. It's pretty much gut-level lyrics, but instead of singing about fighting against political empires, it's fighting against the system that we've been taught since birth. To fight everything that this world has taught us, not each other.
Tollbooth - Is that a better way to channel that punk aggression and militancy?
Fortson - Yes. Kids who are involved in the punk scene have a lot of aggression towards society. They don't think that anyone understands them. A lot of anger gets built up towards parents and stuff. But like Paul says, you are not my enemy, I'm not your enemy; our enemy is the evil ruler of this world, the Prince of Darkness, Satan. Instead of lashing out at each other, we should be lashing out at the things that make me hate you, that make you hate me.