In which the author converses with Justin Gully, frontman of Las Vegas’ FunkyJahPunkys.
Washington City Paper: You seem to be called Giant J.
Giant J: I try not to answer to that name. It’s grown bigger than me. I’m 5’4”, 115 lbs. I appear large when we start doing our thing. [Author’s note: “our thing” refers to the FunkyJahPunkys energetic musical performances.]
How did you earn the nickname Giant J?
I’m a large character. It started from years back. I don’t wanna promote fistfighting, but I’m a little guy that will probably kick a big guy’s ass. I always wanna be as big as possible. Everything about me and what I’m doing is bigger than it should be.
“Giant J” has nothing to do with THC?
The joint part of it…no. But that would kick in at any moment because there is always a joint hanging out of my mouth.
I’m really confused about your ideology. You guys are from the Northwest, but then you were a band in Southern California, but now you live in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, you are funky, but you’re also positive punks, but also Rastas—-
When you get into Black Flag or the Circle Jerks or the Sex Pistols, they weren’t necessarily negative. Maybe during their time they didn’t have a Hot Topic making their style cool. They were perceived negatively, but when you get into what they were telling kids to do, they weren’t negative. “God Save the Queen” is negative, but it is an issue for that time.
[The author contemplates possible positive meanings of the Sex Pistols sarcastic anthem “God Save the Queen” and supposes that, in a way, that anthem could be interpreted positively had the Sex Pistols not represented (and lived) total nihilism).] So you’re saying there’s a positivity in the negativity of the message?
There’s a negativity to be found in that moment, but that negativity was spawned by…the government of their time…I don’t think they were trying to say that we need to live in a world that’s worse than the one we live in now. I think they had rightful complaints and were singing in hopes of changing that.
We have a song called “Fight the World” on our first album. People take it as a negative thing…if you don’t hear what I’m talking about, you can put negative overtones on it. But it’s not negative. I want [kids] to fight back. I’m not saying they should grab pitchforks and put in it in the chest of every guy with a suit. [I’m saying they should] be Thomas Jefferson.
But you are also Rastas—-
We just happen to have dreadlocks. I am not a Rasta—-I’m not an anything. My mother is a Buddhist, my dad is a Green Beret. I’m on both sides of the fence. I’m fully willing to take a deep breath and tackle problems like a logical man. If you’re a drunken asshole at a show, I will knock you the fuck out. I don’t have a religion. I don’t believe we have answers to “What are we here for?”
What about your geography?
I’m from the West Coast. I’m from Southern California…We love reggae, but we appreciate the white boy’s West Coast. Jack Johnson, Sublime…that’s reggae, but if you take that shit to Jamaica, they ain’t having it.
Our ideology is tattooed on all of our arms. “Think free, live free.” That’s a vague statement trying to do a interview about it. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true.
So you’re a positivist. A humanist.
We’ll take that.
But what about Vegas?
This band started as a joke to open up for another band. The joke became my fantasy lived out.
Southern Cali was my home, [but] I owned a 1,000-cap venue called the Old Shipwreck in Tacoma. [Giant J relates the FunkyJahPunkys epic genesis story: the head chef of the Old Shipwreck is “Mr. Black,” the FJP’s guitarist. After the band formed, it relocated to Southern California.] I got home and was looking for the scene I grew up in. The scene I was looking for wasn’t there anymore. We started playing where we could—-playing Vegas once a month—-and we found it here.
Some of the most hippie motherfuckers that I deal with are here in Vegas. There are drum circles in Red Rock. Vegas is a huge melting pot. It’s a loving community that I dig a lot.
We don’t live on the Strip. We’re not down on the Strip hanging out looking for hookers…we live on an acre 8 miles from the strip. One of the houses is for the band, the other is for my wife, mother-in-law, and daughter. We all work together and live in one place and make it possible. Once a month, we host a PCP Family Barbecue to prove that Vegas isn’t the question you asked. [Author’s note: “PCP” doesn’t refer to the popular arylcyclohexylamine derivative, but to Pacific Coast Pirates, the FJP’s Vegas-based record label.]
If I’m ever down on shit to write about, I just go to the strip on a Saturday night. I just go see the people that didn’t mean to spend their mortgage. When you put that much greed and sin all in one spot, you see some visible negativity. The best negativity is at the gas station at Stateline. That’s where you see the losers really losing. You see a poor guy with his wife and kids and see how bad every decision he made that weekend turned out.
I haven’t had a drunk in nine years. I was a full-blown ulcered alcoholic at 22.
How’d you get out of it?
Hitting rock bottom. Seeing as bad as I could foreseeable be while knowing I had so much love and opportunity available to me.
I grew up in a Partyville, I knew the right people. I could do anything I wanted. My brother was older than me and involved in
selling everything. I partied hard. I love drinking to this very day. God, I wish I could have a drink…Alcohol owns me, bro. I drink a 12-pack of nonalcoholic beers at every show.
We tell every venue to have it. I’d love to have a real beer, but I’d have 12 shots of tequila afterward.
How did you guys get involved with Ice-T for the song “Corporate Takeover?”
One of the bands on PCP—-a band called Colombyne—-has a 400-pound rapper Pauly Mac used to be with 187. He lives in Vegas…he’s a nephew of Ice-t. Ice put him through college. That was the personal connection that made this possible. Ice-T gave me a small chance for people to notice…if not for Ice,
you wouldn’t be talking to me from Washington, D.C.
[Author’s note: Giant J is right. The author—-a huge fan of Body Count, O.G. Original Gangster, the film New Jack City, and the survivor of a mosh-related injury incurred at a Body Count show at the Trocadero Club in Philadelphia in December 1993—-received a press release from PCP Records in re: Ice-T’s appearance on the FJP song “Corporate Takeover,” contacted Giant J in the hope of interviewing Ice-T, and only requested to interview Giant J after finding his lifestyle, ideology, and general modus operandi, if not his aesthetics, diverting. In this small way, Giant J is a postmodern American hero: He, an artist who desires attention, has found a found a way to get it, and received it.]
Photographs of the author by Darrow Montgomery