Q’s With Pansy Division’s Jon Ginoli On Touring With Pride For 30+ Years

The Boys In The Band: Pansy Division, who have toured since the early ’90s, performing at San Francisco Gay Pride parade on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Meera Fox/Getty Images)

As co-founder, guitarist and singer/songwriter of legendary punk rock band Pansy Division for more than 30 years, Jon Ginoli has had front-row seats to touring as an out loud proud artist. From crisscrossing the country in a van and sleeping on floors to playing arenas with Green Day and now flying out for long weekends, Pollstar caught up with Ginoli to discuss his touring experiences just as the band is kicking off its 2023 tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their groundbreaking debut, Undressed.

Pollstar: I read Pansy Division played 976 shows over 30 years, is that right?

Jon Ginoli: Yeah and most of those were in the first 10 years, I think we had 800 in the first 10 years.

Can you talk a bit about the experience of touring in the ’90s? Was there a lot of discrimination and bias then?
It was almost nothing. There have been a few times where people were really mad, especially when we opened for Green Day. But the Green Day experience was mostly a very mixed audience. It was rare that an audience completely hated us or completely loved us, for that matter. It was always mixed. The memories of somebody attacking us or trying to attack us, it’s a handful of situations out of all those shows. But people defended us and we didn’t get in trouble, but there’s always that potential.

Do you have concerns now as the political winds sadly seem to be shifting?
In today’s climate, well, I do, but I always have. The thing is, it seemed like when we started, our band could be a potentially dangerous weapon, going out there and irritating certain people, but also inspiring others. That was the point. Now it seems like not much has changed and that’s really sad, but we’ll play where we want to play. We went to Texas right before the pandemic.

There’s probably more LGBTQ+ artists today and more acceptance than when you started – did you get a lot of gratitude from fans when you started?
Oh, yes, and we and we still do. The thing that’s the same about then and now is that there’s always new people coming along, hitting a certain age where they want to explore our ideas and music and we still get people discovering us and talking to us about it.

A big difference was the era of the HIV crisis. When we were first going out on tour, there was nothing you could take to save yourself if you got HIV and nothing that you could take that was preventative. And now we have both those things. In a lot of ways, things are so much better than they were in the 90s. And acceptance is much more widespread across the country.

When you first toured in the ’90s, were you sleeping on people’s floors?
Most of the time, yeah. We couldn’t have made a living if we were paying to stay in hotels every night. We did look to people to stay with. People are frequently happy to do that. And because we toured regularly, there were some places that were regular stops where people would say, “Whenever you come to town, just let us know.” Sometimes that helped us pick where we were going to tour.

It was probably also a good local promotional vehicle.
Yeah, without word of mouth, our band has no success. Without people talking about us and caring about us, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. At this point in our careers, we’re staying in hotels because we’re older and we really did pay our dues. And now it’s nice to be able to take a step up in terms of how we treat ourselves when we’re traveling.

What year did you go out with Green Day?
That was ’94. That was the year our second album came out. We started touring with them in the summer when they were playing like 800-1,000 seat places, all of it pretty much sold out because during the six weeks between when they had booked the tour and the shows came around, that’s when they got big on MTV. So we finished our tour in August. They went off to Europe and came back at the end of October. And then we opened for them again, but they were headlining arenas. So that was quite an adjustment.

How was playing arenas?
We learned fast how to play to that many people. A lot of it is doing a lot more running around the stage, making a lot of gestures. We’re used to conversing with the crowd, which you can’t do in an arena. So we had to adjust what we said and how we projected ourselves and inject our personality to get over to a larger number of people.

How are you approaching this new tour?
Because we’re scattered all over the country, we don’t play as much as we would like to. Instead of getting into a van and driving around the country, we fly to different cities, play three-day weekends and drive ourselves in a minivan.

It’s not the all-encompassing, sacrifice the rest of your life to go on tour situation that it used to be. We could play more shows. We just don’t have time. We’ve all got lives and now that we’re between our late 40s and our early 60s, we are much more settled, so music is not our full-time pursuit. But my God, to be able to still play and have people want to come see us after 30 years is just wonderful.