Trial by Fire | Punk Rock & Motocross Advocate Jordan Burns | Transworld Motocross
By John Basher, courtesy of ProX.
Jordan Burns is many things to many people. To most, he's been known as one of the premier drummers in the punk rock music scene. Having played for the band 'Strung Out' for nearly a quarter of a century, Burns has traveled the world and influenced several generations of music lovers. While his accomplishments in punk music are vast, he has also made a truly indelible impact on the motocross scene.
While the sport in the early 1990s was highlighted by Champions who were criticized for being impersonable and robotic, motocross received a shot of adrenaline in the way of interesting personalities in the mid-'90s. That was due, in part, to Jordan Burns. As one of three original owners of Moto XXX, Jordan and his team shook things up in what some would refer to as the "adolescent" times of motocross. Burns used his pull in the music industry to help kick-start a professional race team in 1997, fielding two-time 125 Supercross Champion Brian Swink and a relatively unknown kid from Nebraska named Brian Deegan. Little did anyone know that Moto XXX would help harbor the freestyle motocross movement and be a key piece in Deegan earning his one and only 125 Supercross victory.
We'll let Jordan explain how that came to be, along with how the famed drummer turned his passion for motocross into reality. Not only that, Burns covers a myriad other interesting topics, including being given Travis Preston's 2002 Honda CR125 two-stroke after playing a punk rock gig all of those years ago. Strap on your seat-belt, because you're in for one wild ride!
Where is home base for you and how did a punk rock drummer find a passion for motocross?
I was born and raised in West Hills, California, where I still currently reside. I started playing drums at the age of 15 and immediately joined my first punk band called Society's Prisoners. I would go on to play in many different punk bands as time went on. However, I always had a love for motorcycles…actually before I ever started playing drums. I always dreamed of racing motocross, but I never got to take that route professionally. In fact, I never got my first motorcycle until later in life, when I could afford my first dirt bike on my own. I went above my parents and said, "You know what? I'm buying myself a motorcycle [laughter]." It was a Honda XL350 that a co-worker at my last job long ago co-signed for so I could get the loan, as my parents were against it. I still have that bike in my garage and it’s still super clean!
Do you still ride?
Absolutely. I love riding, it's such a gnarly workout! My main go-to track is Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR). I really love the track there. I have a lot of history with the Barbacovi family, who own the place. I started riding and racing out there in the late 80s and became really good friends with Jeff Barbacovi. He ended up passing away in a freak accident on his bike. If you look at the Moto XXX 1 movie, we have a dedication to Jeff at the end of the film. I still, of course, remember him to this day. He was a white rapper, and that was before white rappers were a big thing. It was funny because he was called 'Emcee Plain White.' He was on to something. He would announce all of the races at LACR back when they were doing Friday night races. He would be on the mic, fully rapping while announcing. Jeff was a lot of fun. LACR is a great track to go riding at, and it's also the closest one to where I live, just a 50-minute drive.
Los Angeles County Raceway closed for a while, but re-opened with a whole new layout and dirt mixture. What do you think of it now?
The new layout is awesome. Anthony and his crew bust ass out there. If you went to the old-school tracks that were up above at LACR, they had some great layouts there too. I remember the over-and-under tunnel. There were a lot of good times. It's good to see that a lot of people are still supporting the track.
Word on the street is that you're still riding a 2002 Honda CR125 two-stroke and not one of the new four-stroke bikes?
Word on the street is true! Long ago, my old band played this after-party show in Las Vegas for the SX final round. It was for the Doc Marten's team, which I got lined up with the help of Travis Preston who was riding for the team at that time. Part of our pay was two Honda CR125 two-strokes. We got two bikes and some cash. Three of the guys took the cash. I took a bike, and the guitar player took the other bike. That's where my bike came from [laughter]. It was one of Travis Preston's bikes. The CR125 still has the #29 on the number plates, as well as TP29 on the wheel hubs. I've been riding a bunch lately. I'm not great or anything, but I'm still having a lot of fun out there. I have nothing to prove so I don't typically go for any big doubles or jumps that I'm hesitant on. But yeah, I really enjoy riding, and I've done quite a bit. I raced a bunch back in the day on a very amateur level. The highest class I made it to was mid-Novice, at best. I like riding the Honda CR125. Four-strokes are way more expensive to ride and maintain which is bad for an unemployed punk rock drummer [laughter]. Plus, I like being on the 125, because it sounds like I'm going faster. I have a lot of free time on my hands right now, so yeah, I’ve been riding more often than usual.
What are you doing to your Honda CR125? Anything special?
Nothing too out of the ordinary. I just got a new top end put in thanks to the guys at ProX and my mechanic Jim Stonehouse. ProX was a long-time sponsor of our team, so I got in touch again to spark our relationship up and see if they’d be down to help me out with a top end kit. I was greeted with open arms so, I'm stoked that I reached out and touched base. That led me to doing this interview as well so, it's cool how things work out sometimes, right? I still have the 2002 Moto XXX graphic kit on my bike which included ProX on the fork guards, so, still representing and happy to have ProX’s support along with everyone else that continues to help me out!
In talking about free time, you were in the band 'Strung Out' for nearly 25 years, but were recently terminated from the group. What happened?
Well, being in a band can be gnarly. At least 50% of being in a band is getting along. Well, there was “one” that I just never got along with and I guess things came to a head. I could go on and on, honestly could write book, but that’s the short answer and I'll leave it at that. I’ve really done my best to take the high road and not publicly air dirty laundry. It's bittersweet for a lot of reasons. But yeah, when it comes to moto, the band itself never really supported the motocross industry. They basically would sh** talk me the whole time. It was never a supportive deal. Everything we made, fan-wise, out of the motocross industry was from me. I pumped the heck out of our band within the moto industry. It was at a time (1994/95) when punk rock was not fully exposed to the whole moto scene yet. Through all the videos and things we did, we ended up making a ton of fans through the motocross scene. I would get pissed off because I would be met with comments like, "Dude, we want to be a moto band. We don't want a bunch of sideways-hat, 909 [SoCal] bro-brahs at all of our shows." It was painful for me to hear stuff like that. When you are a brand, and a band is a brand/business, you're open to everybody. I don't care if you play volleyball, figure skate, or paint your toenails pink. If you are a fan of the band, then it doesn't matter who you are. Who cares? You're a brand, and you want to appeal to everyone. It was so close-minded. The moto thing was 100% me and I appreciated the f*** out of all the moto fans we made.
In thinking about Moto XXX bursting onto the scene, one cannot look much further than Brian Deegan winning the L.A. Supercross in 1997 and ghost-riding his Suzuki RM125 over the finish line jump in celebration.
Obviously, everyone was in awe. Truth be told, I wasn't able to be at that race. I was in Europe at the time for a show. That was around the beginning of the Internet happening. I was in Germany, and I remember looking up to see what the results were. I saw that Deegan won. I was literally tripping out. My eyes started tearing up! I was in shock, and literally blown away at how our little punk rock team had just won a Supercross event. Think about how many riders and teams are out there that have never won a Supercross race. When Deegan did that ghost ride, it was the best thing ever. He's one of the only one-time winning Supercross racers that is still presently remembered. Everyone knows the ghost ride, and I still own that bike! You have a lot of other people that have won races, but they're all forgotten about. Deegan is still remembered. I am still very proud of that moment and thankful for Deegan riding for us. I'm pretty sure he is thankful for Moto XXX too as we certainly provided a gateway to his success. We turned him on to punk rock and he took the reins and ran with it! Punk rock wasn't part of his life until we came along. We don't like to pat ourselves on the back too hard, but you know what? Moto XXX first-handedly exposed a lot of people to punk rock.
Moto XXX was one of the very first freestyle motocross videos, released shortly after Crusty. You have to be proud of that.
I always hear people saying, “Crusty did this, and they did that” Well there is no denying they made a huge mark starting with their 1st movie but you know what? Moto XXX came out at the same time, and our movie did really well, too. We give them absolute due credit and respect, but people tend to forget all of the stuff that we did. It’s like we were the underdogs. As the video market began to grow and get flooded, we did something completely different. We took all our profits and started a race team “Team Moto XXX Racing.” We made good money from the videos, but to fund the team and do it ourselves cost a sh** load. It was a big learning lesson on how the industry worked, and we got strung along a lot by sponsors promising to pay up, and pretty much dumped everything we made from our movies and other products into supporting the team. It was crazy with how much money things cost. We quickly realized it was difficult to run and support a SX/MX team.
Talk about the team dynamic back in those days, which was comprised of Erik Sandin [drummer for punk band NOFX], Kurt Haller [photographer/videographer], and yourself.
Erik and I were busy with our bands. I was always the loud-mouth pot-stirrer. I liked to fire things up at the races and get stuff going in the pits. I threw out CDs and other free things that would get the crowds all stirred up into a frenzy. I mean, come on, at the time there was never a team in the pits that was sponsored by record labels (Fat Wreck Chords, Epitaph, Nitro). No one else threw out free music. Obviously, Kenny Watson played a big part in getting things together and running the team. He tends to discredit me on everything so we still but heads like brothers. The fact of the matter is, what made Moto XXX awesome at that time was the complete package and what we all brought to the table. Here were two punk rock drummers and a snowboard filmmaker making waves in a scene none of us directly came from, except KW. We were doing something completely different. Who knows if it would have turned out like that if we didn't have all those different elements? But yeah, we pulled it off for a very long time while so many other teams came and went. We were noted by Racer X to be the most successful, true to the name, privateer team ever!
How do you think a video like Moto XXX 1 would be received these days, given the push to social media and content sharing?
Well, I'm biased, of course, but I think it would be welcomed! The internet these days is full of all sorts of free riding content, so for me, some of it gets played out a bit. Most of the videos I see these days are kind of boring to me. It's a different world out there. People are spending $100,000 or more on making these current motocross videos. The top-notch films right now are [Travis] Pastrana's Action Figures 2 movie, which has the most ridiculous stunts in it. Travis and his crew of guys are incredible. I mean, sh**’s not going to get much gnarlier than what you’ll see in that movie. But, I think people are also yearning for the 1990s, although I don't know if that can ever be repeated. That's especially true in the Supercross pits these days. The racing levels are incredible, but the pits and how everything is so controlled and corporate is stale. It's all about greed in my opinion, and that's a bummer. I always looked at motocross like a bad boy sport. They always talk about how they want to make it like NASCAR. I'm no rocket scientist, but it will never be NASCAR. It's their fantasy dream. It will never be that big, because it's a different market, though, motocross should be that popular, because the athletes are phenomenal. I just don't think it will get to that level. I really believe those days of releasing videos, and the freestyle motocross video market is what drove a lot of people to the races.
Moto XXX had incredibly talented riders through its tenure. Talk about some of the names that stand out.
When we started off with Brian Deegan and Brian Swink, I was blown away. We had a two-time 125 Supercross Champion in Brian Swink. It was an honor. Those two ended up being such a perfect fit for what we had envisioned starting out. It was incredible to have those kinds of riders on the team. As the team grew, we kept getting all of these incredible big-named riders. It’s hard to recall everyone 'cause there was so many, but Travis Preston, Phil Lawrence, Kelly Smith, Nick Wey, Damon Huffman, Tim Ferry, Larry Ward, Kelly Smith, Kyle Lewis, Mike Metzger Etc…the list goes on. Every year, we always seemed to be the last to get our team together. We had the guys who were searching for a ride at the eleventh hour, like they were getting picked last on the kickball team. However, we always ended up with these amazing riders. We somehow kept proving ourselves. We were there to stay and we had a sh** load of awesome guys come through our team. And the number 1 Women's MX Champion, Jessica Patterson, too. We were the first to give her an official ride
At one point the team name was changed to Moto X3. Why?
Kurt Haller and some of the guys wanted to start becoming more of a professional race team and thought maybe our name was holding us back. There was a point when Nick Wey was on the team when Kurt decided that we would call the team Moto X3. It was depressing to me, because I thought we were wimping out. But Kurt felt maybe the new name would be more “sponsor friendly” Well, the new name never got us any more sponsors. I was bummed because I liked the name and all the antics. I was causing drama, and that's what I thought the fans loved about us.
The Moto XXX race team grew to prominence, particularly in the early 2000s, when you recruited star riders like Larry Ward, Kyle Lewis, and Damon Huffman.
Larry Ward won a National for us. He was the first guy to beat [James] Bubba Stewart for an overall on a four-stroke. Larry went 2-2 and won the RedBud National. We won a Supercross race and a National. We were this little team that came from nowhere. Later, we had riders like Tim Ferry and Damon Huffman. Damon was one of the first riders we ever filmed with for Moto XXX 1. We never dreamed that Huffman would ride for our team, though, we never even dreamed that we would have a team! Kyle Lewis was the holeshot king, so that always got us a lot of attention too. When you look at the complete list of everyone that came through our camp, it's pretty impressive. Again, being noted as "the most successful privateer team ever" was such an amazing compliment, and I think it still holds true. Ya know, we didn't line our pockets with cash, we gave it all back to the industry. I have no regrets!
Do you still see the anti-corporate vibe in racing, or is it completely gone?
No. Most of the personalities are pretty dry. Look at Jason Lawrence, Travis Preston, or even Travis Pastrana. These guys had character and charisma. They were good on the microphone and not robotic. I don't know if the new generation is taught to be like that, but I don't like it. Every interview you see with these guys seems almost scripted. There's no emotion. I'm not 'Mr. Excitement,' but the interviews are stale. I remember the days of Bubba Stewart winning and doing the Sprinkler dance. I thought it was awesome. Whether you liked it or thought he was insane, it showed emotion. I remember when Stewart came out dressed as Rick James. He was screwing around. It's like the old days of Tyler Evans…. can you picture Blake Baggett ripping his shirt off and acting all crazy? Jason Lawrence brought so much excitement and drama to the scene, he is a f****n legend and my dream is to have him back at the races in a Moto XXX box van, at any capacity at all. His is without a doubt, one of the most talked about SX racers. I was, and still am, a HUGE fan of JLaw!
Did you encourage your riders to stir things up?
I once remember asking Tim Ferry to take his shirt off and get the crowd going. He looked at me, like, 'What are you talking about?" It was pretty funny [laughter]. Then we would have someone like Josh Summey, who was all tattooed out and looked gnarly, but he was really quiet. I always tried to razz him. I'd like to get back into a little bit of bringing spice into the pits, but I suppose we’d need to some riders and a presence in the pits first. I'm trying to do some stuff with these new school kids Braap Vlogs, BM_Fatty and crkilla607…they can wheelie like crazy and yup, it’s just outside the box thinking! Gotta connect with the youth.
Although the Moto XXX team closed their doors following the 2008 season, the name still lives on. That's pretty amazing, given that it's now a decade later.
Absolutely, it a great feeling to know that Moto XXX still has a lot of supporters out there! It’s great that we are still rolling, and I've got some dreams still. I recently found the original Moto XXX box van. My old partner Kurt sold it long, long ago, so, it's been out of our hands forever. Well, it's in great shape. The paint job on it is still in great condition. I had heard from a few people that they saw the box van frequenting swap meets in the San Pedro, California area. A guy direct messaged me a picture of the box van on Instagram, and I asked him where I could find it. He gave me an address, and one day I decided to see if I could find it. I rolled into a bit of a rough neighborhood, pulled around a corner and there it was. Our original box van! I got goosebumps. I didn't know what to do. I looked at the box van, and the paint job is still great. Some of the same stickers are still on there. I thought to myself, 'It's sad that this piece of our history is being used to go to swap meets.' I want it back. (Anyone want to help with a GoFundMe program? Send a DM on our Instagram) The history of it, to me, is incredible. My dream scenario is to get it back and show up at Anaheim for the Supercross opener with JLaw. Obviously, if we showed up at a place like Anaheim we'd get stuffed in the way, way back somewhere. That's where I come in and let my head go to work with all the different things I would do to bring the people to us. I have ideas of how to do it. If you recall back in the day, we would be parked across from [Jeremy] McGrath, and we would fire up our giveaway thing. Everyone would bail from his line, and the next thing you know, people would be chanting 'Moto XXX.' I did the stuff with the guerilla marketing with the Moto XXX “fat” girls. Without patting myself on the back too hard, that was one of the most awesome things to happen in the Supercross pits in ten years. The girls are BBW Porn Stars and had the perfect attitude. They took literally thousands of pictures
What was your driving motivation for the Moto XXX team?
The money was certainly not the reason why we did what we did. If we did it for the money, then we would have gone say the 'Crusty' route. Instead, we ended up giving our money back to the sport. All 3 of us had to take actual money out of our pockets to keep sh** going! We supported riders and the people who worked for us. I wouldn't take anything back, because there were some really good times. I still feel like we have a good name. It's figuring out how to get the youth on board and getting them to connect with us. It can be done!
What's your goal with Moto XXX going forward?
I'd say to continue to grow the brand and receive the loyal support of the fans we have as well as making lots of new ones. To have a team out there again would rule, but again, it would be a box van and a rider, not a semi-truck for us. We did 13 years of charity giving back to the sport. But yeah, showing up at A1 would rule. Just takes a bunch of money, what the world revolves around, right? If you manage to get any sort of big corporate sponsors, you typically have to play by their rules. In speaking of that, I'd like to mention one of the original Moto XXX team riders, Brian Swink, who just recently passed away. He was a great friend of mine, just had a lot of demons, as we all do. Anyhow, He never wanted to bow down to sponsors and really enjoyed the freedom he had on our team. He retired in 1997 after several injuries plagued him and he had had enough. After retiring, it was unfortunate the route he took, but he was a very stubborn son of a gun and did things his own way. The guy was a complete legend on a motorcycle and is touted to be one of the fasted 80cc riders ever! Brian was a big-hearted good guy. I ended up seeing Brian in person in 2016. We had a really good time catching up. I was crushed with his passing. I flew to Florida for his funeral service and hung out with people I hadn't seen in a while, like Gene Neumac, Anthony Pagio, and Jeff Glass. It's a bummer when death is what reunites people. I had a last moment with Swink in the funeral home. I got teary-eyed, and then I left and things felt so final. Anyhow, I'm putting together a dedication video for Swink that’s going to be very cool.
When does the tribute come out?
I have to get my lazy butt in gear and see how it's going to edit together, but I've got so many awesome people saying great things about him. I want my good friend Jay Schweitzer to edit it, but he’s so damn busy with other projects. I think my other good friend Colin Morrison is actually going to do the edit with me, so we’ll see, but again, it's going to be awesome and something I'll be proud of that his family, friends, and fans will enjoy. Again, I was blown away to have a rider of Brian Swink's caliber riding for Moto XXX. It was a wild time. I really think that, to this day, no one has ever done it like we have. No one has duplicated Moto XXX. The whole 'Party in the Pits' thing. That was something I'm pretty sure we originated.
Lastly, Pulp MX covered the Moto XXX's rise to power in a very well written article several years ago. That was quite a read.
Ya, Steve Matthes actually used to work for Moto XXX as a mechanic for a year or two. I was really stoked on that article because it's really informative on the history of Moto XXX. It's a great place for us to point people to learn about us and our past. It’s a long read, but it's a great thing. I'm thankful that Matthes keeps it available for everyone to read on his website. To check it out, you can visit http://pulpmx.com/2014/07/24/moto-xxx-the-complete-oral-history/.
You can check out Moto XXX online at the following!