Agent Orange - Biography

Agent Orange is a long-lived rock band from Orange County, California that was one of the first bands to mix the fast tempos and aggression of punk with strong elements of surf and metal. Due to their unique sound, they were a controversial member of the emerging punk rock scene in Orange County in the late '70s and early '80s, though they were adopted as one of the flagbearers for the skate-punk phenomenon that started in Southern California around that same time.

Guitarist and vocalist Mike Palm formed Agent Orange as a natural culmination of his musical interests and geographical location. Growing up in Fullerton, California in the ‘70s, he was exposed to a lot of the metal and hard rock, which was very popular at the time. Palm also became a fan of the surf rock genre that was started in Southern California in the early ‘60s by artists such as Dick Dale and The Ventures. By the late ‘70s, Palm discovered the punk music coming out of the UK and New York, and was involved in the early homegrown punk movement in Southern California’s Orange County. The punk sound from Orange County usually had a more aggressive, less arty aspect to it than did punk from Los Angeles. Because of Orange County’s proximity to many of Southern California’s finest beaches, Agent Orange’s mix of surf, metal, and punk seemed like a logical extension of all that was going on in Orange County at the end of the ‘70s. The band’s rise also coincided with the growing popularity of skateboarding and Agent Orange’s hard-driving sound mixed with surf elements made them the soundtrack to the emerging skate-punk movement.

Agent Orange originally consisted of Palm on guitar and vocals, Scott Miller on drums, and Steve Soto on bass. The trio started playing local shows and house parties in 1979, and soon cut their first release — a 7” single of their classic song “Bloodstains” (Agent Orange Records). “Bloodstains” was popular on the local punk scene and a copy was sent to influential KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who played the song on his show so much that it became a regional hit. Soto left the band soon after and started another Orange County punk stalwart band, The Adolescents. Steve Levesque joined Agent Orange on bass and the group spent the next couple of years playing at punk clubs like the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Anti-Club, before releasing their debut album, Living in Darkness (Posh Boy) in 1981. The album became something of a classic in the local punk scene and would be the band’s calling card in years to come. The group spent more time playing shows than recording albums, and they only released two EPs in the next few years — 1982’s Bitchin’ Summer (Posh Boy) and the covers-heavy When You Least Expect It… (Enigma) in 1984. Both EPs showcased the band’s mix of power pop, surf, and punk, and When You Least Expect It featured the band ripping through such cover songs as the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” and a raucous version of Johnny River’s “Secret Agent Man.”

The group’s next release was the 1986 album This Is The Voice (Enigma). Once Agent Orange hit upon their formula of mixing punk, pop, surf, and metal, they didn’t really alter it much — just refined it and gave it their own subtle shadings. This Is The Voice followed the sound started on their first album and EPs closely, but mixes in a bit more pop sensibility and even a little acoustic guitar on a couple of the tracks. The group spent the next few years touring and playing shows in areas where the surf-punk subculture was strong. Agent Orange didn’t release anything new until the 1990 live album Real Live Sound (Restless), and by then the band consisted of Palm on guitar and vocals, Brent Liles on bass, and Derek O’Brien on drums and backing vocals. Real Live Sound was a familiar mixture of some of the band’s original songs mixed with covers like the Dead Kennedy’s “Police Truck” and the surf favorite “Pipeline.”

After Real Live Sound, Agent Orange went on a hiatus, playing occasional shows now and again. They didn’t really resurface again in full force until 1996. Palm assembled a new rhythm section consisting of Charlie Quintana on drums and Sam Bolle on bass, and the new version of Agent Orange produced an album that had much of the power of their early work. They released Virtually Indestructible (1996) on Fearless Records and toured heavily. The group continued touring and playing live in the next few years, with Steve Latanation replacing Quintana on drums. In 2000, they released Greatest & Latest (Cleopatra), a curious mix of new recordings of some of the bands classic early career cuts and a couple of covers and new songs. Though all of the songs are played with the usual gusto the band always seemed to generate, it’s tempting to wonder why a band that had been around for so long and was so adept at playing live couldn’t come up with a whole album of new material. (Greatest & Latest was later reissued as Blood Stained Hitz in 2004 on Anarchy Music). A compilation of the group’s output while they were sigend to Enigma/Restless label, titled Sonic Snake Session was released in 2003. Another compilation, Surfing To Some F*ked Up S@!t (Cleopatra) was released in 2008. Agent Orange continues to tour both in North America and Europe, with a line-up consisting of Mike Palm on guitar and vocals, Dusty Watson on drums and backing vocals, and Perry Giordano on bass and backing vocals.

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