The first time I walked into the house that hosts the Funky Jah Punkys’ weekly barbecue concert, SpongeBob SquarePants was playing on the TV. The next time, it was Scooby Doo. Seemingly odd associations for a band with songs titled “Fight the World” and “Third World War.” But that’s the FJPs’ secret.
“We’re positive, man,” singer Justin “Giant J” Gulley says. “We’re rebels.”
Rebels with ambition. After meeting at a seafood restaurant in Tacoma, Washington—Gulley owned the joint; guitarist Scott Vaughn was its head chef—the Punkys made their way to Canyon Lake, California, and eventually to Las Vegas. Initially a punk-rock outfit, the group quickly diversified its sound to include ska, reggae and funk, not unlike a young Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Diversity is our key,” says Vaughn, who goes by the stage name “Mr. Black.”
Though the Punkys share in the subversive politics of SoCal punk forefathers like Black Flag, X and Social Distortion, they’ve managed to retain a sense of fun. They throw the barbecue every Sunday at their Vegas home, and they’re proud that their music has attracted a growing local following. “We found a scene,” Gulley says. “We have friends in every city that touches the beach.”
They scoff at the notion, however, that the band and its fans are merely goofy, harmless hippies. “We eat meat, bro,” Gulley notes. Beneath their stoner façade lies a marketing machine, inspired partly by Gulley’s two famous partners: adult-film star and Playboy television personality Inari Vachs (his wife) and celebrity snowboarder Shawn Farmer (his close friend). “We’ve attacked this,” Gulley says.
At present, the FJP brand includes their Pacific Coast Pirates record label, a self-published fanzine entitled IOE FREE and a nightclub in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, called The Beach Monkey.
Still, a recent show at Zia Record Exchange was all about the music, with the band playing tracks from its newest album, Third World War, along with material from older disc Corporate Takeover. Mr. Black, bassist Chris “Jahbassy” Zerchot and drummer Chris “O’Klaus” Olthoff proved a cohesive launching pad for the Iggy Pop-esque stage antics of Giant J, and musically, the group sounded solid. They still need to find a more coherent identity—ideally one that allows their political messages to come across more powerfully—but for now, they’re just having a good time.
“We basically do as we like,” Gulley says. Even if that means watching SpongeBob in their spare time.