Saturday, March 21, 2015

Banging the Drum with Matthew Cross of Detroit's Collapse

What started out in earnest as an interview with Detroit Hardcore act quickly began to focus on the band's drummer Matthew Cross. Since seeing the band perform live at a local dive in nearby Montclair. We had exchanged emails and social media. As these exchanges continued to grow began to grow more and more curious about Matthew's background, his time and involvement in New York's Hardcore scene and his life in general. As the progress of the interview began to grind to a halt. We decided to expand our exchanges in to somewhat of series of open ended conversations. Come to think of it. This could end up becoming the blueprint to future interviews. Open conversations about music, art  and common interests. Communication without the boundaries we sometimes put on ourselves.  James Damion

James: I was under the impression you grew up in New York.

Matthew: I grew up in Warren, MI, one of the many suburbs surrounding Detroit.
When I moved to New York in the early 90s, I first lived in Manhattan – lots of floors, couches, and illegal subletting – and later in Long Island City in Queens.

James: What was your introduction to NYHC? The bands, the people, the clubs you frequented.

Matthew: My first introduction was Agnostic Front’s Victim in Pain LP, and Cro Mags’
The Age of Quarrel LP. I heard AF first, and there was something unmistakably different about their sound, it was so raw and real.
There’s a really exhausting and ridiculous rivalry between east and west coast punk and hardcore (and everything else), in which I refuse to take part. But for whatever reason,
I was always drawn to the east coast sound.  Maybe because it was so obviously influenced by Midwest bands like Negative Approach, but also because it felt like Detroit and New York had more in common than Detroit and Los Angeles, you know? Listening to surf punk in Detroit is cool, but listening to
Agnostic Front’s “Last Warning” feels right – like “yeah, this track feels like where I’m at right now.” The atmosphere of that music – the grit, the darkness, the urgency, and rhythms that felt like a factory falling apart around you – felt like home.
I know there were a lot of great punk and hardcore bands in NYC before 1984 like Kraut, the Mob, and Cause for Alarm, but that AF record was the first thing I heard.

I went to shows at places in Detroit – The Graystone Hall, Traxx, The Falcon Lounge, Paychecks, and so on – but missed most of the classic NYHC venues and show spaces from the early 80s. I did see and play shows at CBGBs, Wetlands, Coney Island High and
ABC No Rio.

So as an outsider, I came up loving New York Hardcore, but like kids in the 90s who loved Seattle’s grunge rock scene from afar, I wasn’t part of it and probably had a lot of misconceptions about what the scene was like. For example, I remember when I first met Sick of it All, and had to really brace myself to try to appear “hard” and serious, because their Revelation EP was the biggest thing in the world to me, and I just assumed these guys would be really intimidating. And as anyone can tell you, they are four of the sweetest, silliest people you’ll ever meet. As a kid, I was surprised, but also grateful. I didn’t have the energy, or even the desire, to maintain that kind of fa├žade, and it meant a lot to me that they weren’t interested in it either.

As I age and evolve, I’m leaving a lot of that music behind. Part of that is natural.
We grow, and are not moved by the same things we were when we were 18, or not in the same way. It’s very rare that I feel like blasting Breakdown’s “Sick People” or
Sick of it All’s “Pete’s Sake” because that’s how I’m feeling in that moment, you know?
I might reach for other hardcore records, but more often than not I want to hear something else.

But part of it is also that I’m over the masculinity of hardcore. There is so much masculine posturing and posing that is part of hardcore, from the music to the lyrics to the style to the performance. I still love hardcore, and there were a lot of bands from that scene that took different approaches, like Gorilla Biscuits, Token Entry, and Nausea, and I still enjoy those bands today. Actually, the youth crew bands used to confuse me a little, because stylistically they just looked like preppies, or young Republicans. But in general, I think many sects of hardcore cling to really outdated, regressive attitudes about gender. So while I still love and enjoy hardcore, I’m more inclined these days to seek out bands and music representing a wider spectrum of humanity and emotion.

James: I picked up the vinyl reissue of Into Another's Ignarus a few weeks ago. It was the first time I had read the liner notes in over a decade. When I saw your name on the
"Thank You" list....it was like pieces of a puzzle. Can you tell me a little about your relationship with them and your connection to the band?

Matthew: That’s a great record. It’s funny you mentioned that; I had “Maritime Murder” in my head a couple weeks ago, and went and listened to that LP again for the first time in years.
I loved Drew and Richie’s previous bands Youth of Today and Underdog, and so I was excited to hear Into Another when their first record was released. Because I also loved metal and rock, I appreciated the new direction they were trying. Like many other kids, I bought the records and went to their shows, where I struck up an acquaintance with Drew. I worked at a drum and percussion shop at the time, we’d talk drums, and I helped him out from time to time when he needed gear. So my name on the record is because of that help and support. Drew also gifted me the Zildjian 20” ride cymbal he’d used on all those early hardcore records, including Into Another, which I thought was really sweet of him; he could have sold that thing for a lot of money instead. Hell, I would have bid on it.

James: How did the opportunity to join Orange 9mm come about? Had you been in any bands prior to that?

Matthew: I had been in other bands since high school, mostly punk and hardcore. Before I joined Orange 9mm. I was in a band with my brother that was quite different. It was metal influenced, and incorporated a lot of keyboards and industrial-style rhythms and arrangements. So Alan didn’t have a reference for me in terms of bands; in fact, I’m not sure he’d ever heard me play. He probably guessed I knew how to play because I knew a lot about drums, and the band was willing to give me a shot because of Alan’s recommendation, as well as my willingness to pick up and move from Detroit. At the time I was working a couple low-wage jobs in Detroit just to pay rent and bills. I didn’t want to do anything but be a drummer, and when the call from Alan came, I figured this was my chance to step up and do it.

James: It's funny you saying that about evolving and perhaps musically aging out of Hardcore. I've been feeling the same way for years. Honestly, most of that departure is rooted in all the endless nostalgia, reunions and constant reminders of what I've come to consider ancient history. I never cared for the knuckle scraping tough guy ideology that  went along with the music. However, your mention of acts such as Token Entry and
Gorilla Biscuits reminds me of the type of music and message I was always drawn to.
What originally drew my to the music was the fact that is was small, intimate and for lack of a better word organic. You paid your five dollars, saw five bands and made a bunch of new friends by the end of the show. Even if I wanted to see my favorite band play.
Chances are I'd have to buy advance tickets and day passes to see them play a festival with forty other bands I could give a shit about.
All rants aside, I'm curious as to how this evolution or change in tastes effects your being in a very good hardcore band. (Collapse) I wanted to get some of your thoughts on the subject and how or if that reflects in what Collapse is creating.

Matthew: I think you’re right about the message of those bands, and that meant as much to me as the music. When you meet someone who absolutely loved the Burn EP, it usually isn’t just about the music, which was phenomenal. It’s because that band, in the best spirit of punk, was about something. “Shall Be Judged” is about a certain kind of injustice, but it’s also about trying to make sense of one’s place in a society entrenched in systems and cultures of violence and oppression. And then that middle breakdown kicks in, Chaka’s doing a somersault off the stage, and you want to throw a chair at the wall.

And these bands also had a different energy onstage. Detroit was full of bands that carried and promoted really negative, hateful masculine energy – yelling at the “pussies” in the back to stop being “soft” and get up front. That shit makes me want to leave the room immediately. That stuff was all over the country in the late 80s and early 90s, it wasn’t just Detroit and New York. But you also had bands like Los Crudos and Nausea playing sonically aggressive, heavy music, yet it was more about healthy human anger, not masculine aggression.
At least that’s what I took from it.

I’m taking the long way answering this question, but this gets into Collapse, and why I’ve spent the past three years writing and playing with them.
I wanted to play aggressive punk, but I wanted to do it with…I guess the best way to say it is with feminists, with people who have a more complex understanding of power. It isn’t enough for me anymore to work at this level with someone who just happens to not be overtly sexist or racist; I want to work with people who are conscious of those dynamics, and intentional about minimizing their impacts. And with Collapse, that’s the kind of band we are; it’s reflected in our lyrics, and we try to live into that in our interactions with other people.

You know, thinking of that Burn song makes me think of other hardcore songs I still love. “Regress No Way” by 7 Seconds, “Sink with Kalifornia” by Youth Brigade, or with punk, “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now” by Dead Kennedys or “Poison in a Pretty Pill” by Crass.  Those songs are full of meaning and vision, and questions about what kind of world we want to live in. For me, being in Collapse is an opportunity to be a part of that legacy. So many of the issues those bands were addressing – racism, misogyny, militarism, and consumerism – are just as prevalent today as they were in the 1980s. It feels good to be in a band following that tradition of speaking out about injustice and oppression. Our task, and I think it’s the task of every artist who takes these issues seriously, is to move beyond expression to intentional action in community with others.

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