Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Looking Back; An Interview with Iann Robinson

In early 2012 I decided that it might be time to shut the doors on Unite Fanzine/Webzine. Originally a print fanzine that saw its birth in my senior year of high school in 1988. It gained new life as an internet presence in 2007. Since that time I focused on taking my interviews to a new and much more personal level. My goal was to go deeper than the band, their record and the chicks. I wanted to really get to know the people who made the music and art that influenced me and had a lasting effect on me. 
It's been almost a year since I stopped working on Unite and teamed up with my buddy Dave to form United By Rocket Science. I've found new life and inspiration doing this blog and with so many other blogs and sites focusing on Hardcore and it's glorious past, it seemed a good time to call it a day.
With this said I plan to post some of the more intriguing and personal interviews I did in my Unite days. I decided to take the easy route and title these posts "Looking Back". I'll be posting these here and there as I choose. So look out. James Damion

Most of you know Iann from his days as an MTV News nipple twister; while many others know his as a writer for Chord magazine or the creator and writer for Crave Online. If you're an old NYC cable access geek like myself you might have gotten to know him as the crazy man from Monkey Butt Sex who would follow his reviews of shitty Metal Core releases by destroying the CD to help save the ears of unknowing listeners. Regardless, he's always been an honest and inspiring writer in my eyes. Someone I wanted to get to know a lot better. This interview first appeared on in August of 2010. I consider it one of the better interviews I've ever done. JD

James: I'll never forget the first time I came home and turned on my TV set to see Monkey Butt Sex. My initial response was "What an Asshole." Yet, from that point on I found myself racing home from whatever bar I was at to catch it week after week. I loved your brutally honest reviews of the music and the kind of laid back interviews you were doing on the show. How did the idea for the show come about and what was it that drew you into Hardcore music in general?

Iann: My interest in hardcore was a bizarre one. I was raised in upper Manhattan so my first exposure to music was really hip-hop. I used to hang with the uptown kids and every so often we'd venture downtown. I ended up seeing Murphy's Law at a show and I became kind of enchanted by the power and rebellion in what they did. A friend of mine gave me Black Flag and it was like something had touched deep into my soul. Somebody had figured out what I was feeling and was singing it back to me.

From there I just immersed myself into it and stayed mainly with the bands that spoke to me. Minor Threat, Black Flag, The Minutemen, Cro-Mags, AF, Negative Approach, VOID, anything I could relate to or felt rebellious. As I got older I got into more of the MC5, Stooges world and the eclectic No Wave scene and so forth. Before hardcore became about basketball jerseys and tough guys it was a universal acceptance of the counter culture. Through hardcore and the people I met I found the counter culture and who I wanted to be.

If you look at the music and people involved in the early punk scene through the No Wave scene and into hardcore and then all the music exploding out of that it's so varied. I want to find like-minded people who create art that touches me not corral what I like into the sensibility of pre-fabricated scene.

As for Monkey Butt Sex, I actually owe the kid from Squirt TV a debt of gratitude.
He had a  access show and I hated it, hated him and knew I could do better. I marched down to Manhattan Neighborhood Network; signed some papers and they gave me a time when the show would air. The name came about because I wanted something when people saw it on the preview guide they would have to at least check it out. At first the show was going to be all skits but that didn't really work out and suddenly I was alone with a name, an airtime and no show.

I decided to just review albums on tape the way I had always written and talked about them. I set up a VHS camera on my desk, sat in front of it and went to town. At first nobody cared but then suddenly people were stopping me in the street telling me how funny the show was. The "break" came when Pete from Sick Of It All came up to me at a show and said he loved Monkey Butt Sex. I asked him if SOIA would do an interview and he agreed.

From there bands and labels suddenly were interested in working with the show. I interviewed tons of bands, reviewed records; it was a really cool time. I think doing all of that is what made me so comfortable with the camera, which helped get me the MTV job. I did the show for several years before deciding to go out on top and calling it a day.

Monkey Butt Sex provided everything for me. I got into directing music videos from it for bands like Sick Of It All, Agnostic Front, Hedpe, Napalm Death, H20, Warzone and a few others. I used that to start my own business, which is still around today though without my involvement. I also got the MTV job from Monkey Butt Sex. It was a major turning point in my life.

James: I know from personal experience that giving a bad review in the Hardcore scene can get you into trouble with certain people. Some of your bad reviews went way over the top. Were there many instances where you were kind of looking over your shoulder or peeking inside your mailbox to see if there was a letter bomb about to explode in your face?

Iann: To be honest it never occurred to me because my feeling was always if you put a record out then you had to expect opinions good or bad. I learned quickly that isn't the truth at all. When you review music made by people with limited mental facilities and the review is negative, violence becomes their only recourse and you're pretty much screwed. I sat in the backstage area of a few shows knowing some muscle bound roid rage victim was going to thrash me because I said his band sucked. I remember ripping apart 25 Ta Life and people telling me I was going to die. I didn't die but there were some tense times

I decided when I started writing professionally that if what I wrote was to mean anything I would have to take what came with it. I've been fired, punched, screamed at, all sorts of things based on what I've written but I incited those reactions so I have to deal with them. When people ask me why I put up with it or why I don't just write in a less brazen way I say to them "seven years".

Lets be honest here, I have the opportunities I have because of my time on MTV but seven years after leaving that station people still, for whatever reason, want to hear my opinion on things. It might be to cheer it might be to plan my murder but they all come to check it out. If I had backed down or changed things nobody would have given me a second look and I would be nowhere now.

I have to face myself, my fiancée Sara and the few friends I truly respect. Outside of that I could give a flying fuck what anybody thinks of me or how I live my life or what I say. As long as I can look those people in the eye then I'll deal with whatever comes.

James: Predating the show I also noticed we were going to Kingsborough Community College at the same time. Pretty sweet for a community college if ask me. Were you majoring in journalism?

Iann: No I was majoring in fucking up. I had been kicked out of Hunter College because like an idiot I got married at 20 to a girl who was kind of insane and I couldn't hold down everything and go to school. After my divorce I entered Kingsborough to try and get my act together and did really well. I also discovered the girls there who were hot and not hard to talk into bed. It was a pretty glorious time until my dad's sickness kicked in.

He had AIDS and started going downhill quickly and then passed away. I left before my second year was over to deal with that and get my head together. From there things started happening for me and I never went back to school. I'm going back to school now to study either Social Work or Human Resources. Shockingly enough I spent the last few years counseling troubled youth and found I really want to focus on helping people in my life.

I also have always felt that journalism is a dead thing. Not because the skills aren't viable but because so much of the media is corporatized that being able to dig the truth out in a story doesn't matter anyway. Add that to the bloggers who are now trusted "journalists" and we see how far we've fallen. People call me a music journalist and I correct them I tell them I'm a music fan who happens to know how to write.

James: At one point or another most of us have have to go through the pain of seeing their parents pass. But being so much younger and having someone go through such a painful and even misunderstood disease had to be very painful. How did that effect and even shape you and your general outlook?

Iann: You have to understand my father in order to understand my answer. My father was a beautiful human being, flawed like all of us, but still shined brighter than any other person I have ever met. He was generous, brilliant, kind and one of the few people who didn't think compassion was a character flaw. My relationship with my mother at that time was strained to say the very least and my father was one of the only people that made me feel like anybody gave a shit if I lived or died.

When somebody that wonderful is struck down by such a horrific disease and is forced to suffer more than any one person should it destroys pretty much any ideas you have on justice or fairness in the world. You spend a lot of time hating God or whatever benevolent deity is up there handing out death sentences. I watched as people who were just the absolute scum of the earth, fathers who were bastards, lived and prospered while I buried mine. I was an angry person to begin with but that pushed me into a dark arena I almost never got out of.

I'm not a big fan of talking about how my dad's death affected me because he was the one who suffered unbearably. I watched him take his last breath on Earth and I can honestly say some of the good in me died with him. I know he'd hate to hear that but it's true. My cynicism, bitterness and general disdain of everything sharpened that day.

I carried on that way, with that kind of rage inside me and that desperate need to feel like somebody cared, for years and it destroyed many friendships, relationships and had no small part in what cost me my MTV job. Over the last few years I've sunk myself into therapy, tried to recognize my issues and deal with them. I'm better now, not cured because I don't think you can be but I am better. I still slip into old patterns but I identify them quicker and try to overcome them without destroying everything in my path. I'm still a hard person to be around at times but I am trying, I can promise you that.

James: Were you always this Piss & Vinegar kinda guy?

Iann: I don't know, how do you answer that? I mean yeah my childhood sucked but not as bad as others, up until about 5 years ago I was fat so I was picked on a lot but I also never had a problem getting laid. I've always had a girlfriend but up until Sara I never found one that worked. There's a lot of my life I wouldn't wish on anybody and the unfairness of a lot of it has made me volatile and ill tempered but who isn't?

I think the biggest misconception about me is that I hate everything or I'm always negative. That just isn't true, I have a great deal of love for many things but I also call bullshit when I see it. If I had to analyze it I think people don't know what to do with me because I don't have an agenda. So many people factor their agenda into what they write and when you don't folks have no mechanism to deal with that so you're labeled a hater.

For instance I don't have to be friends with a band but I'm not opposed to it. I like free stuff just like anybody but I don't need it. I'd love for DC comics and Marvel to fly me around to movie sets and so on but I don't write in hopes of that. I don't hate or love anything so much that I won't look at it justly. I review things based on what the thing I'm reviewing actually is and for some reason that's an oddity. The game is played based on favors and who washes who's back. I don't play that way so I spend a lot of time alone.

I remember reviewing the last Mastodon album and saying I didn't like it. People kept saying "But dude it's Mastodon" and my response was "So what?" Factoring in who a band is or what they've done before into what their recently offering makes no sense. If it's all reputation then we end up with an industry of design instead of artistic merit. I gave a bad review to the new Slayer album because I honestly didn't like it and their publicist banned me from talking to any of her bands ever again. Really? That's where we've fallen to? If you don't love what I say love then we'll take our ball and go home. That sucks.

People get on me because I don't care for Phil Anselmo. They always site who he is and how important Pantera was and my response is still who cares. Phil has said and done some ridiculous things (Dimebag for instance)  and to me it puts him in a negative light. I don't care if he can heal cancer with one touch; if he acts like a douche I'm going to point it out.

Same with the recent Avenged Sevenfold album I reviewed. I have always hated that band but I gave their new album a decent listen and found it to be terrible. I also found their constant updates on how the death of their drummer pushed them into making this album to be in poor taste. These tween kids all thought I went in hating the album and so I was labeled a biased asshole.

First of all that isn't true but secondly if I had been wearing an Avenged Sevenfold t-shirt and saying they were so good I wish they made cookies to eat these same tweens would've been amped on how cool I am. I doubt any of them would have said, "Well it's a good review but Iann is a big fan so that's biased". Again, that's their agenda; I have no agenda so people get mad.

When you do things as honestly as you can it hurts people's feelings, it gives the business itself nothing to figure you by and usually it will put you at odds with everyone. Do that long enough and suddenly you're super negative and an asshole and so forth and so on. It's fine with me, I'm not here to make friends or get backstage passes. I won't turn them down but I certainly won't jump through hoops for them.

Some ask who the fuck I think I am to believe my opinion is so great. Well, I don't think my opinion is so great but I'm not going to change it to become buds with people or bands or anybody else. If you think I'm a talentless hack then don't read my work. Nobody can please everybody so all you can do is create work that pleases you. People who love it, I'm honored that you read it, people who don't that's totally your right. However don't expect me to follow those politics when I'm writing something. I don't owe anybody anything at all, period.

James: Did you always want to be a writer?

Iann: Yep, as far back as I can remember. When I was seven or eight I would trace comic book pages and leave the balloons blank to write my own stories. That all comes from my father, he was the most incredible writer and person I have ever known. Having him pushing me to always write got me to never quit no matter what was going on. I write as much as I can all the time, just to write. I'm a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Kerouac, the beats  and HP Lovecraft. All of those people loved to write and would write just to do it.

My style came from that and my need to get across how I really felt about things in a visual way using words. As I got older I got better and discovered my own voice. I feel like I'm better now than I ever was because of Craveonline. They let me write what I want; they're very open minded, supportive and have allowed me to grow as a writer. Everybody needs a niche; a place to write and feel safe and craveonline has been that for me.

I write because I have to, that's the best way to describe it. I have short stories that nobody has seen, a couple of scripts, even a stupid blog just to blurt out opinions all because if I don't write I'll snap my cork and then it's green hair, white face paint, red lips nutty Iann time. For those like me writing is as much a compulsion as music, collecting records or comics or even drugs. You have to do it you have no choice.

James: As a kid I was really into comic books. I was and still am a big Marvel fan (always thought DC heroes were lame and suggestively homosexual, Hey, I was a kid) What were some of your favorites?

Iann: That's funny because I'm much more of a DC person than a Marvel guy, I just find the stories to be better. Marvel is so steeped in keeping their heroes "real" that they forget these are heroes, bigger than life people we need to believe in and they don't always have to have incredibly depressing private lives. I still read some Marvel stuff but not like DC.

I started with Peanuts and Archie books. My grandfather worked in a distribution house so he'd load me up with those paperback Peanuts books and Archie digests. One day I ducked into a store to avoid kids who were picking on me and I looked in the spinning rack of comics. I was about seven or so and I found a book about the death of Batman, with all the villains standing over his grave saying "I killed him". It shocked me because at that age I only knew of Batman through the Superfriends and the 60s TV show reruns. This seemed so serious for Batman. I bought the book and was instantly hooked; he became my number one hero.

So thirty two years later I still read Batman along with tons of other stuff. My main reads right now are all the Batman books (of which there are six or seven), the Green Lantern titles, Walking Dead, Wolverine, Spider-Man, The Flash, JSA, Superman, Daredevil, and the occasional indie comic that my friend and Book Report cohost Joey Esposito tells me about. I'm also a huge fan of old mystery, western and war comics plus any of the Creepy stuff.

Though I love modern comics my main love is the old school stuff, before it all got so cross over heavy and serious. Anything Jack Kirby was a part of or Ditko or any of the true pioneers. I could do a whole separate interview on this topic it consumes me like music does.

James: While we're on the subject of comics Can you tell me about Isolation Disorder Press. How did this originate and what's your role. How did you meet Brian?

Iann: I met Brian Smith through one my best friends David Monogahan. My first introduction to Brian was Dave telling me about the performance art band he had called 4 Way Anal Touchfight which consisted of Brian and another friend Guy dressing up in choir robes colored like the Denmark Flag with masks of the same design and pretending to be two guys from Denmark singing about Touchfighting, though they never explained exactly what that was. It's hard to describe the genius of it, I'd have to play it for you or you'd have to see it live.

When I first met Brian it turned out he was the same type of comic freak I was. I don't mean we both liked comics I mean we both connected to them in the same way. We would have three or four hour phone conversations about why Jimmy Olsen was referred to as Superman's "pal" or how awesome it was the way Galactus spoke. Brian is also the funniest motherfucker alive and very few people can make me laugh at all.

When I moved to Boston we just got closer, I'd spend most of my weekends with him and his amazing family just talking comics and driving around drinking iced coffee. Brian became and remains one of if not my best friend in the world. He's also much like me, angry, belligerent, volatile, so it works. We had talked about doing a comic book together with me writing it and him drawing. Come to find out doing a press run can be like $2000 and you have a minimum of five hundred copies, which is bullshit.

So we decided to pool our money and buy a copier, write the books and literally build them in Brian's basement. We named the company by combining two Joy Division songs being that we both worship that band. The first thing we collaborated one was A Fist Fight With God about a man who loses his wife to a drunk driver and that rage leads him to a physical confrontation with God. It's clear something I wrote about my anger towards my father's death.

Then Brian started doing his continuing series called Recur, which is amazing but hard to explain. I worked on a science fiction western titled The Drifter with another artist as well as book called Some Agoraphobic Girl. Brian and I collaborated again on a book called Imagine If Bon Scott Was The Herald Of Galaxus. It was basically making Bon Scott the Silver Surfer to Galactus only he wanted to be a rock singer not a herald.

We've done some conventions, our stuff is in local stores but we're not really looking to become the next big thing. We're working on new stuff but it comes out whenever it comes out, that's how we work. People can check the stuff out on our Facebook page and at

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