Friday, April 13, 2012

Looking Back; An Interview with Rival Schools drummer Sammy Siegler

In following up on my decision to post some noteworthy interviews  from the vaults of 
Unite Fanzine. "Looking Back" hopes to be a continuing series on the blog so stay posted. James Damion

Since the age of twelve Sammy Siegler has built a resume as one of the most sought after drummers in music. During the 80's he played in just about every relevant Straightedge band. Side by Side, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Judge, Project X and Civ all played to his beat at one time or another. By the 90's he was already a skilled, well traveled and sought after musician. He continued making great music with Rival Schools, Glassjaw, Nightmare of You and  Gabby Glaser. We sat down for coffee early one evening in the
East Village to talk about music and growing up Hardcore. Since this interview the band Rival Schools has resurfaced and released their album 'Pedals'.

James: Sammy, I don't know if you realize it but you are the first person who ever called me "James Unite".

Sammy: That's crazy!

James: What was your introduction to Hardcore?

Sammy: I would have to say the movie Suburbia. I had a friend, Matt Pincus (later played bass with Judge), who was a little bit older than me. I was 11 and I really looked up to him. Got introduced to the Sex Pistols and the Clash. .
My sister hooked me up with these two older guys who went to Stuyvesant High School.
They had a band. They were really nice guys who were into Punk, a little Reggae and Ska.
I thought I was this cool little bad ass kid. I was smoking weed and dropping acid. It was a really wild time. I grew up a few blocks from here on 15th street. I was just introduced to things at a young age. I became friends with this guy Dylan who turned out to be Walter Schriefels younger brother. He had this band called Gorilla Biscuits and they needed a drummer. I was like "cool, let's jam." I was a little bit scared. I didn't know all that much about that sort of stuff. We played together and it worked out. I ended up playing with them at the "Birth of Unity" show at the Right Track Inn on Long Island.
That was literally the birth of Unity. It was the birth of Hardcore for me.

James: Wow, that was actually my first show. I still have the flyer somewhere.

Sammy: There were so many good bands on that bill. I think I was maybe 12 years old.
I wasn't that great on drums. I was really into the music but I just wasn't great at playing that fast. From there it just happened. Walter and the guys from Gorilla Biscuits were tight with the guys from Youth of Today. Then I met Jules from Side by Side. I wasn't good enough to play for Gorilla Biscuits and they had gotten their old drummer Ernie from Token Entry back. So I went to play with Side by Side and things just kept evolving. So that was the initial introduction to Hardcore for me.

James: With the exception of Harley Flanagan you were the youngest kid to be playing in a band during that era. Was it hard for you to get into shows? How did you manage that?

Sammy: My parents were really supportive and cool. They would actually walk me down to CBGB's sometimes. The first road trip I did was to Buffalo with Side by Side. My mom gave me some extra money in case I had to take a bus home. Change for the phone. She was a little nervous but after that it was cool. You see they knew a lot of the guys I hung out with because they would always be at our apartment. Kind of like a clubhouse. It was a really cool vibe. Then around 1987 I started playing in Youth of Today. We played our first show together in Pennsylvania. Then the next week we flew out to the West Coast to do a tour with Instead, 7 Seconds, Uniform Choice. I was like "Oh my God." We were opening up for
7 Seconds at Fenders. I was a fan of Youth of Today and all of the sudden I was in the band.

James: Speaking of your family. I remember meeting your mom on the side of the stage of CBGB's during the Side by Side reunion. I thought, "How cool is this kids mom?"
It was the benefit show for Pete Koller of Sick of it All.

Sammy: The thing is they were all good people. Billy and Gavin from Side by Side would be over the house all the time. Those guys were like my brothers and my best friends. My mom saw that and she felt comfortable with it. Porcell was like a big brother to me in so many ways. She knew these people were looking out for me.

Another key thing for me when I was really young was the Rock Hotel shows which were at the Ritz. We lived on 14th street and the Ritz was on 11th street. My older sister who was sixteen when I was thirteen would take me. I got to see bands like GBH, Bad Brains and the Cro-mags.

James: You mentioned that at a very young age you were experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
How quickly before you got into being straightedge?

Sammy: Having these older friends that I looked up to. Telling me "hey, it's not all about drugs and getting fucked up." In time you just learn that it's smarter to take care of yourself. It's smarter to just be the best person you can be. It's a lot easier when you have friends like that. You have a support system. You have a crew. As I got older I just put a little more thought into it. It made a lot of sense. When you see all these people in your high school just doing stupid things. As things progressed I just felt better about myself and my decisions. In a way I do feel good that I had time to experiment.

James: I think it's good to know both sides of the coin. Most of the straightedge kids I knew experimented with drugs and alcohol at one point. The first person I ever smoked and got drunk with was Civ from Gorilla Biscuits.

You mentioned family earlier. How your friends were like family to you. From my own experience and from the experience of a lot of people I have talked to. People talk about New York Hardcore as family back then. Even now to some degree.

Sammy: The thing that stands out to me is Some Records on E. 6th St. Duane was running the place and to me it was like the clubhouse. That was where we would all meet. Right after school we'd go there. Pick up the new demo from whatever band, hang out and just basically loiter. Tompkins Square Park was right there. St. Marks was just around the corner.
Then the weekend shows at CBGB's. It was just amazing. Rabeez from Warzone would write these letters and hang them up at Some Records. "Hey, there's going to be a Hardcore softball game before the matinee." It's funny but it was like this after school program.
I remember Jordan (Revelation Records) and Ray Cappo talking about doing a yearbook.
So yes, it was like a family. There were some crazy people in that family. Dysfunctional yet functional.

James: The whole "Youth Crew" ideal gained popularity and was also scorned. There were a lot of pros and cons that came with it. What's your take on it?

Sammy: It definitely took on an elitist form. I agree that some of the backlash was warranted. All of the records started to look the same. The zines looked the same.
People started dressing the same. It became very much a clique'. Individuality kind of faded. Eventually it was the cause of a lot of people becoming disinterested in it. That being said, "All good things do come to an end," That was the rise and fall of my little world.

James: What was your first band?

Sammy: I had played in this little band Noise Space...My first show was with Gorilla Biscuits. I wasn't a good enough drummer though and Ernie was so good. I guess my first real band was Side by Side. I remember going into Don Fury's studio to record the song "Violence to Fade" for the Revelation "The Way it is" 7 inch.

James: It seems the band had a very short existence but the posthumous EP
 "Your Only Young Once" is a seminal New York Hardcore release.

Sammy: Time has a way of preserving things. When I look back at that time. Bands like Warzone, Underdog, Youth of Today and Token Entry were the top tier. Side by Side and even Gorilla Biscuits to a degree seemed smaller on that scale. So in a sense time creates that nostalgia. But at the time it didn't seem like we were up there with those bands. But it was awesome.
We recorded the whole thing in one day. It cost us just around six hundred dollars. It was just an awesome time. Side by Side were together between 86 and 87. Then I just started playing with Youth of Today.
Then we did that insane tour in 1988. Seven of us in a van just whipping around the country.

That was my first real tour. Then in the winter of 1989 we went to Europe. I missed about two months of high school. That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We're driving through Europe in a van playing squats. Straightedge wasn't happening over there.

James: I have the poster from that tour. I find it strange that you actually toured with
Lethal Aggression. A band whose beliefs and practices (i.e. heavy drug use) were the polar opposite of Youth of Today's. How did that work...or not work?

Sammy: That was totally fucking insane.
We were on Caroline Records in the U.S., which at the time was a big deal. Caroline licensed their records to Funhouse in Germany. Funhouse was affiliated with Lethal Aggression.
Someone thought it would be a great idea to pair up our bands for the tour. This guy out of Germany booked the tour. He had made all these horrible bootleg Youth of Today shirts and records. The records were this really ugly fluorescent yellow. He was a pretty corrupt dude. We didn't make any money from the shit they were selling. We got paid really poorly. The tour itself was exciting because there were such a mix of skinheads, punks and an occasional straightedge kid. I remember London was pretty happening. Germany was kind of scary though. I remember there were these Nazi Skinheads who were going to kill us.

James: Getting back to Lethal Aggression. Were you guys spending down time together and hanging out? It's just hard to picture.

Sammy: The first day we got to Europe we were staying at this guys house. Youth of Today was in one room. Lethal Aggression was staying in another. Just getting acclimated to being in Germany. They went out and picked up some really young schoolgirls and had a total drug, sex party in their room. I remember the singer coming out of his room all wasted and saying, "Yo, do you want to smell some good jam?" Referring to the girls smell on his fingers. (Laughter erupts at this time.).

You know the thing that a lot of people don't remember is the guys in Youth of Today were open to a lot of things. As long as you're nice a person. We were just open to a lot of different people.

James: You also toured Europe with Gorilla Biscuits.

Sammy: I think I was a replacement on the 89 tour.
I also was with them on the second tour in 91. It's interesting to see how things progressed. There were hardly any straightedge kids there when we did that first tour. By the time I had gone there with Gorilla Biscuits things had grown. That had happened with the whole world really.

James: It seemed like straightedge blew up almost over night.
The Lower East Side had always been this
drug-infested area. Even the Hardcore scene in NYC was never really a straightedge scene.
Then all of the sudden there's Youth of Today and all these kids with X's on their hands.
With that sudden explosion and the popularity that came along with it came a backlash.
I was interested in how you as someone who was affiliated directly with that scene felt.

Sammy: I think it sucks when things have to be that way. I think Gorilla Biscuits in a sense were geniuses that they were positioned in a way that everyone was into them whether they were straightedge or not. They were straightedge and proud of it but they were inclusive to everyone. There was a "We're all in this together" sort of mentality about them. Sick of it All were like that too. Not that they were straightedge. They were just cool in that respect.
I didn't think much about it but it just seemed so stupid.

James: You were in two bands (Judge and Project X) that seemed to be a reaction to that backlash straightedge received. You can also say these bands caused the backlash.

Sammy: It's almost like asking what came first the chicken or the egg. I was the drummer for all these bands. I was working and writing songs with people who had really strong feelings. Mike who had just been the drummer for Youth of Today had a lot of things on his mind. He had a lot of things to say and a lot of things he wanted to get off his chest. I think some of those lyrics were taken way literally. It's almost like what's happening in Hip Hop today. If you take everything so seriously. You tend to get lost. Looking back at Judge, we were like "Let's just do this pissed off, heavy straightedge Hardcore." "I've Lost" was a love song. "Forget this Time" was about his therapist. I think people looked at in way where maybe they just took it too far.

James: Judge were one of the truly great bands from that time and that genre. But you guys were really dark. In a sense the music's vibe sometimes brought a bad crowd to your shows. You were dealing with a lot of violent elements and attracting bikers. People acting out to what they felt the music meant. Did there come a point when you said, "This is just too much."?

Sammy: No, I really didn't. I just felt there were more cool kids than not. I felt there were more kids who actually got what we were about. Mike was a big, sweet guy. He was also a smart guy. Porcell was a nice guy. He was like a big brother; Matt was just this older friend.

James: There are so many musicians that have a history of being in a lot of bands.
You are no exception to that rule. The thing that makes your situation somewhat unique is that you were in a lot of bands at the same time. Did the constant touring, playing shows and recording ever feel like too much?

Sammy: There was definitely a time when it became more serious. I was playing with
Ian Love in a band called Lotus and we were on a five-day a week rehearsal schedule.
Then I was helping out another friend. That's when it became more of a career. Back then it was more or less for fun.

James: Have you been able to make a living as a drummer?

Sammy: Yes I have. With a lot of hustle and some luck. There are times when I'm working with a band and I'm doing a commercial. Then there's down time and dry spells.

James: Luke Abbey (Warzone, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge) was a contemporary of yours.
You both played in a lot of the same bands at different times. I know you were friends but was there also a lot of competition between the two of you?

Sammy: It was a healthy competition between us all. There was also Drew who played with BOLD at the time. We would see each other's bands at the Anthrax maybe once a month. We would all be like "He's so good. I have to get better." Luke was in a band called
Loud and Boisterous at one point.

I met him when I was 11. He was a little bit older, Maybe 12 or 13. I looked up to these people. I looked up to Mackie from the Cro-mags. Alan Cage (Beyond, Burn, Quicksand) was a talented drummer. Petey Hines (Murphy's Law, Cro-mags) ultimately.

James: What do you feel were some of the causes of the decline of New York Hardcore in the early part of the 90's?

Sammy: It was much cooler when all those bands were playing together. It was a lot cooler when all the kids went to the same shows. It was a lot cooler when you could see skinheads, punks and straightedge kids hanging out together. Warzone and Nausea playing on the same bill. The melting pot aspect so much more appealing. When things got segregated and things got violent. It started to disintegrate. If you were not a violent person why would you want to be involved with something like that? When you have new kids in the scene who are more into the gang aspect of it your going to have problems. That's not what Hardcore is about.

James: Civ came along and breathed some new life into Hardcore. They were Hardcore with a bit of style thrown in. They were something different. Yet, you guys got a lot of flack from what you would call purists.

Sammy: I think that happens with anything that's different. People don't always embrace change. The same thing happened with Quicksand. People were saying Civ's not like
Gorilla Biscuits. Quicksand's not like Gorilla Biscuits. Into Another wasn't like Underdog. It's kind of unfortunate that people are afraid of change.

James: The second Civ record "Thirteen Day Getaway" didn't do well at all. A lot of people just didn't take to it. I myself included. I felt like I was hearing an entirely different band.

Sammy: I can't say I'm not proud of that record. It was really a lot of fun doing. Walter was a big part of the first record. He wasn't involved with the second one at all. It was just a crazy time. We had a lot of fun though. We toured with No Doubt. We were on a major label.
I think the record was really over produced.

I remember we played our last show in Okinawa in Japan. Then I flew to Spain for this crazy Youth of Today reunion at this festival. We played with Metallica and The Black Crowe's. Some guy paid us an awful lot of cash to do it. May mom, dad and sister came to meet me. It was a great time. It was great to see the guys from Youth of Today. Then I cam back home and got into

James: You mentioned Walter Shriefels.
You were in a lot of bands together. Rival Schools was one of the later ones. Can you tell me a little about that experience?

Sammy: That was five years of my life. It seemed like such a short time though. We recorded and EP, a split EP and a full length. We also toured. At one point Walter just pulled the plug on it. I think we were just at a point where it wasn't working anymore. He sort of lost the fire. It was a disappointment for me and the other guys. It would have been cool to make a second full length. I think it's easy for a lot of band members to make that first record. Your making music with friends and there's this magic, there's a concept, an idea.
"Let's do a project. It kinda sounds like this, it kinda sounds like that. Let's do it. You write ten songs, you write fifteen songs. You write an album. Let's do it. Let's play a bunch of shows."
Then that magic starts to drift a little bit.

James: Does it become routine?

Sammy: I think part of it is the major label system. Then there's touring constantly.
Which is how they sell records. Playing the same songs night after night you can lose the fire sometimes.

James: There was a time during the New York Hardcore scene where people we either on tour, dropping out, in jail or just plain missing in action. When you don't see people around you start to hear rumors. One of the strangest rumors I'd heard was about you playing in a band called Warrior Soul.

Sammy: It's true. I've definitely had some weird sidetracks in my life. I think I was playing in Shelter at the time. We were recording at Don Fury's studio. Don knew some guys from this band called Warrior Soul. They had just been signed to Geffen and were this Guns 'N' Roses type of rock band. They needed a drummer and they were making a video. They asked me if I wanted to be in it. So I was in the video and then another video came and another.
So according to them I was in the band. Then at one point I was in the band.

In the end they wanted someone older, bigger and more buff. The thing is as long as I can remember I've always been into diversity. In 1991 after the Gorilla Biscuits tour I was in a band called 22 Tribes. I did some work with Limp Bizkit. Being a drummer is a weird thing. There are always opportunities because bands need drummers. It's great because I like to travel. I'm into different things.

James: Tell me about your recent band Nightmare of You.

Sammy: The new single is almost out. I think it's really good. We're going out with Movielife for two weeks. Rival Schools was on the way to breaking up and I started talking to
Joe Mc Caffrey. Wrote a bunch of songs and started recording. The influences lean a lot towards British acts like the Jam, Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello and a little Squeeze.

James: You're also working with Gabby Glaser (former Luscious Jackson guitarist/singer)

Sammy: Gabby is just a really sweet, sweet girl. She's a great singer but she' very shy for some reason. We started working together writing songs but I just think she needed someone to kind of pull them out of her a little bit. That's one of my favorite things, working with a singer/songwriter. They come in with good songs and I just get to tweak and develop them a little bit. I got my friend Guyora, who is an amazing musician, to play bass. Then we got Ian Love from Rival Schools to play guitar. We recorded all the songs for the album "Gimme Splash" which just came out this June. It's a really cool record. Kind of Rock meets Garage.

It's just really a good record. I was never really into Luscious Jackson but I love Gabby and I love her vocals.

James: Looking back on your experiences do you think Hardcore helped to shape you as not only a musician but as a person?

Sammy: Absolutely, 100% Yes. I don't think I would have ever gotten to travel or see the world like I have. We were in East Germany before the wall came down. We played in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Spain. We were just young kids out there doing it.

We were getting to learn and understand people's dynamics and cultures. The Youth of Today album wasn't so much of a straightedge album as it was an album about life. Songs like "Potential Friends", those lyrics still mean so much to me. I got to meet and travel the world. Those experiences will be with me for the rest of my life.

James: Is there any one band that stuck with you more than others?

Sammy: Altercation was that band. A great hardcore band that's often overlooked. I wouldn't say they missed the boat. I think people missed the boat on them. They had this sick, yet amazing energy. Then there was Youth of Today. I was a fan of Youth of Today before I was in the band. "Break Down the Walls" Was such a great record and one that really struck a chord with me.

Rival Schools Official

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