Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quicksand -Slip Preorder

That's right Quicksand's landmark album "Slip" has been remastered and is being re-released.....get on it...Dave G.

 First Pressing

180 Gram Red/ Black Swirl (LTD 500) - Shop Radio Cast Exclusive
180 Gram Green/ Yellow Swirl (LTD 500) - Shop Radio Cast Exclusive
180 Gram Black (LTD 500) - Dine Alone Records Exclusive

Order Here

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Agnostic Front Debut "Us Against The World" Video

The Godfather's of NYHC debut their video for "Us Against the World". Plans to record release new album and tour have been confirmed. Plans to seek out new world are just rumors at this junction. 
Stay tuned.

The Mob - Back to Queens / That's it

Thirty years after releasing one of the greatest Hardcore EP's in Punk/Hardcore history with
"Upset The System"
New York City's The Mob return from utter obscurity with three slabs of Hardcore for the senior circuit. After reforming for a set at NYC's 'BNB' Bowl in 2012 the Mob headed to the studio to record their first record in over twenty-five years.

"Back to Queens"
(An ode to the greatest Borough NYC has ever known) opens up the short set with a good pace and energy. It took hold of me with it's opening riffs, rolling bass and up tempo beats.
Ralphie singing the chorus "That's where I got my walk, that's where I got my talk. going back to Queens, that's where I belong." Coming in at 2:47, this stellar track kept me on my toes throughout it's entirety.
The B side follows with a trashier sound more reminiscent to the ancient Mob style. Unfortunately, "That's It" and "Zoo Crew" are  instantly forgettable to the ears.

Though the band were seminal to a lot of kids my age getting into Hardcore. (And particularly in Jackson Heights, Queens.) But personally, the bands music, it's influence and their Hardcore legacy faded as time went  on.

This record doesn't really do anything that inspires one to look at the bands storied past; Nor does it get the listener eager for the future. I would suggest tracking down the bands classic work on "Upset the System" or "Truth Over the Airwaves." This just seemed like a lot of hype and little reward. The band is back in action and is planning more releases for 2012. One can only hope they get better as they come. James Damion

Buy it Here

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Mob - Back To Queens Video Teaser

I'll be posting my review of the Mob's new three song EP.  (Their first recorded material in more than twenty-five years) In the mean time you can check out the video that celebrates the new records release.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Interview with Chris Wynne of In Effect Hardcore

1988 was a really big year year for me. I had just graduated from High School, moved back to my old neighborhood and had managed to get a sweet apartment with Civ, Walter (Gorilla Biscuits) and Alan (Beyond). I had a good job,
a somewhat dependable motor vehicle and had immersed myself in the New York Hardcore Scene. Fanzines like New Breed, The Village Noize, Yes Zista and my zine Unite documented a music culture that was so underground, you risked breaking a sewer main every time you went to a show. It was the year In Effect fanzine released it's first issue. During two decades and twelve issues In Effect Fanzine covered the NYHC scene with a fervor and dedication not seen since or before. After resurrecting Unite Fanzine as a web presence in 2008.  I met up with Chris and talked about old times and in particular In Effect. At the time, it seemed that a return to glory wasn't in the cards. Fast forward four years and In Effect Hardcore is back with the same dedication, determination and hard headedness he's always brought to the table. I recently had a chance to catch up with Chris again . Here's what transpired. James Damion

James: What made you decide to bring back In Effect after all this time?

Chris: The actual making or production and distribution of the printed zine was a time killer. Everything involved from the interviews to gathering info from the bands, checking the
PO Box and mailing out promos etc… time consuming beyond belief. I loved doing it all but after 12 issues it really burnt me out. I saw a website as an easier way to do this in that there is no physical product to go out and have to drop off or sell or hold on to a consignment sheet for months while the store sells what you gave them. I saw a commercial for a web server pushing a very easy to use way to make your own website and the wheels in my head started turning. Once that starts it is all over as I get very determined once I want to do something. That is just the way I am wired and probably the reason why I will burn myself out down the road as well.

James: With your history and reputation I can imagine there was a lot of excitement and buzz involved.

Chris: I initially did not want to call it In Effect. I didn’t want to be looked at like a re-union band in a way. Being old and not as good as you used to be!  (LOL) I wanted a fresh start and if it ended up looking like crap it would be easier to walk away and it wouldn’t have messed with what In Effect had accomplished already. I couldn’t come up with any good names since almost every dot com name you can think of is already taken and on advice of some friends caved in and decided to use In Effect. Even that was taken so I became In Effect Hardcore. The first 2 weeks saw 3600 visitors to the site which is pretty good considering my advertising is me posting on Facebook and handing out In Effect stickers at shows from time to time. We just hit our 5 month mark as an up and running site and we are closing in on 32K visitors. That number to me is pretty impressive and I never thought it would get that kind of response when I started.

James: You have an excellent group of contributors adding content to the site. How did you go about seeking out the core contributors?

Chris: When the site went up and running it was just me and my wife Bridget who knows her way around a computer a lot better than me. I did the writing and she did the layout.
Things that surprised me are that there have not been that many submissions by bands or labels of things to review. I almost have to chase them to send new releases and the other part of that is the labels hardly ever send physical content. Everything is digital downloads which saves them a ton of money in shipping. Anyway, for writers I got Freddy Alva who got me my start as a zine dude when we both worked on his New Breed Zine
back in 1773 (Jokes), Brett Hardware who was one half of Hardware Zine, a very well put together and informative zine out of NJ, Tim Edwards from the UK  who contacted me via email saying he would like to contribute and backed it up by doing great reviews each time and Brian White who is a local scenester who books shows here on LI, takes photographs at shows, and has done a few reviews, a good guy to have around and has a lot of contacts since he helps books shows with Howie Fightback. Jason Patton from Jersey is another contributor but doesn’t write. He is an old school fan of the zine and takes photos at like every show. He has provided some great updates in that he goes to a show and at 4am I will get 40 pics from a show that just ended and within an hour of me waking up there is an update of a Bold re-union show that just ended maybe 8 hours earlier. That is one aspect of a website that blows away the printed version of the zine. These folks that I mentioned plus a gang of photographers from all over make In Effect tick these days.

James: When you set out did you have a grasp of how many of the bands you were covering twenty years ago were still active or even making new records?

Chris: Yup, most definitely. A misconception from some of my friends is that I was not into this music after I stopped doing the zine. After I stopped doing the printed zine I actually enjoyed everything more because I could just relax and not listen to an album with my mind thinking about what I wanted to write in a review. I applaud the bands that get back together and write new music and question the ones that get back and just play their old songs over and over.

James: When we spoke last you mentioned how much stress and pressure you put on yourself in the days when you were working on the zine. How you became this lunatic when it came closer to printing each issue. Has that changed being online now? or are you still the head case you were back then?

Chris Wynne and Nick B. (Grandpa) Back in the day
Chris: It is easier doing In Effect this way, no doubt. I love that I have nothing to sell. My overhead costs are the webserver fees which are not much and I made a shitload of the old In Effect “Grandma” logo stickers which I mail out for free to other countries for friends to hand out where they live… That’s about it so it is stress free on that end. There are no deadlines in the hardcore community. You send a band questions for an interview and they may or may not answer you 2, 3, 4 months later? Some things never change and it has been like that for as long as I have been into this stuff. “Our 7” will be out in 3 weeks” and there you are 8 months down the road and you see it come out. I personally need to get some of that mentality in me to do this long term. My work ethic is one where if I am not doing something to make the zine/site move forward then I am being lazy in my mind. I am still a head case and the head case will be let out of the cage eventually. I see myself burning out again eventually and making a comeback 10 years later well into my 50’s. (LOL) I will still listen to the Breakdown demo in my 50’s by the way.

James: What kind of goals and expectations do you have in bringing it back?

Chris: The expectations are the same with when I started doing the printed zine and that is to help bands and help the hardcore music scene. Everyone knows the big name bands and I like to help the smaller bands even more. I am a huge fan of No Redeeming Social Value and have helped them in the zine over the years and they have always thanked me and told me how much mail they would get saying people read about them in my zine. To me that is why I do this. I see a band and ask why more people aren’t into that particular band and I try to make it change and get their name out there more. The new name now is BroLoaf from Arizona. Look ‘em up, they have Todd Hamilton from District 9, Warzone and are really good. As far as goals go it’s just what I can come up with on the fly, I haven’t changed much. The website has been fun to put up and see the reaction and as long as it is fun I will keep it going and hopefully along the way people reading it find some new bands, some new music and maybe some of the readers will start their own site, maybe a zine and keep this hardcore shit going for years to come.

James: I feel as if the dye is set. Good luck brother.

In Effect Hardcore

Sleepies - Seriously (Advance Single)

The Sleepies hail from Bushwick Brooklyn and play a style of punk that brings bands like Whatever Brains to mind, however I think the Sleepies are just a touch more straight forward in their approach, though I admit that I am basing my opinion on this one song advance digital single so I do not have an exact idea of how their upcoming full length Lp "Weird Wild World"  is going to play out.

On the "Seriously" single the band manage to create a cool weird vibe and keep me on the edge of my seat by using an interesting mix of melody and unpredictable chord changes and  time changes. I have to say that I really am anxious to hear what the "Weird Wild World" Lp has in store for us because I think it's going to be one hell of a wild ride...a ride  that I am definitely looking forward to taking...Dave G. 

Seriously Single

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Supertouch - Documentary 1991

Just came across this on You Tube and figured I would share it with the hardcore kids here on UBRS...Dave G.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Interview with Ev and Paul of Cinema Cinema

After months of talk, scheduling and rescheduling, I finally got to meet up with Ev and Paul at their Brooklyn studio. We had wanted to talk about the band, music and life in general for months but just couldn't seem to find the perfect time or place to complete the mission at hand. Lucky for us, that time helped build a bond between us that allowed me to gain more of an intimate glance at the good souls behind the manic music I had grown with during the months that led up to our meeting. As we sat in the bands cramped, dirty space with the sound of music pulsating from the next room, I got a glance into the personalities behind the band. Ev, sitting on the edge of his chair was animated and articulate, all while remaining soft spoken and fluid. Paul on the other hand was shy and intuitive. He spent most of the interview sitting on his hands listening intently. Chiming in thoughtfully when the time was perfect.
A few months later their much talked about release "Manic Children and the Slow Aggression" is finally here and while Brooklyn's dynamic duo celebrate their success and hard work. I can finally sit back and say "Thanks guys, we finally got it done."
James Damion

James: How the band evolved. Did you originally set out to become a duo/two piece?

Ev: It all started back on January 11th of 2008 when we started doing Cinema Cinema as a two piece. That’s when we decided to play together. Everything everybody knows about Cinema Cinema started that day.

James: Do you go about creating the music differently when you’re a duo as opposed to if you were a trio or a quartet? How do you go about filling the sound?

Ev: I feel that we go about being a duo differently than a lot of better known duos. I think a lot of them decide early on that they’re going to play a specific sound. Regardless if it’s going to be Jazz, Blues, Garage or whatever, have made a decision to stick to one sound. They don’t broaden their palette. They bring their palette down to one or two colors and stick to that.
We approach it differently. I honestly don’t feel that being a duo limits us. I feel as if there’s an entire orchestra surrounding us. I don’t feel like I’m playing with one person. I feel as if this is a full band. I know how I need to play. I know how to fill that space. To properly use the bass drum and the pedals to present a fuller, more orchestral feel.

We approach it with a broad spectrum. What sets us apart is that we feel that every option is available. We want every part of every song to be anything it can be at all times.
We don’t want our music to be predictable where we’re throwing a mosh part here and a break there. Fuck that! I want to sound like Blag Flag and Queen fucking. Even if I never listen to those bands.
Whenever a group of people get together to form a band they have a vision and personal influences that they might want to bring to the band.

James: What were some of those influences and visions for you?

It was never really discussed between us.  As far as the direction we’ve taken and the sound we’ve created as Cinema Cinema. I would be lying if I said there was a master plan when Paul and I got together. It was this big, crazy, heavy improv, heavy but light monster/beast of switching tempos from Hardcore to non-core. It was a matter of us taking that approach in the realm of anything is possible in the song. Just that focus on the songs. That was the key. Even though we brought on this beast that was riff heavy.

Paul: The truth is that we just wanted to play with one another. I know I wanted to make music with Ev when I first learned to play the drums. It went beyond just wanting to be in a band. I wanted to be in a band with EV. It was exciting and organic playing with one another. I never thought I would be in a two piece Metal band. I like lighter music myself. Playing this kind of music with him has made me a better musician. It feels great.

Ev:  When you talk about influences; We haven’t really formed them yet. What influences this band is the relationship Paul and I have with each other. It’s rare when you’re in a band and you can be this freely creative. You can put everything you've got on the table during a practice or writing session and someone can say “Yes”  “Maybe that doesn’t work” “But what else do you have?” The openness of our relationship is what influenced us. Though we started in January of 2008, it wasn’t until mid 2009 until we started to sound like  what we are now. The music that I listened to along the way is the music that has always influenced me. I loved the serious nature of Fugazi when I first heard them. That opened the door for me to
Minor Threat, Dischord Records and SST. I was listening to all these records and my mind was blown. Now, do I want to sound like these bands? No. I don’t want to sound like anything but myself.

With Paul and I there’s a ten year difference in age. I started playing gigs in 1994 when I was fifteen. For as long as Paul knew me I had long hair down to my shoulders and was wearing Rock T’s while playing in bands. The fact that he’s been thinking about playing together for so long is incredibly flattering to me. This is how he’s always known me. It’s been eighteen years since I played my first gig with Rise at L’amours in Brooklyn.

James: How does the partnership run?

Ev: I manage the band and for the most part steer the ship. However, I don’t make any decisions without first going to Paul. As much as I handle things, I’d never do anything without first discussing it with my partner. It’s amazing but with that ten year age difference I’m amazed at the amount of things Paul comes to with zero motive and pure intention. He is pure of any interior motives when it comes to things. I became a musician in 1992 when grunge hit really big. Now when Nirvana said how important it was when Black Flag played in their town. Fuck Yeah, I’m going to go look into Black Flag. If Eddie Vedder was going to mention Ian Mc Kaye in a magazine article; Yeah, I’m checking them out to. I remember he had issues with having indie cred. He knew what he was doing when it came to working the media. You can’t play that innocent and act like a newb when you’ve got a huge corporation backing your record. He knew that if he dropped Mudhoney’s name he wouldn’t come off looking like the poster boy of some huge corporation. I mean give me a break. Look at Rage Against the Machine. They can talk all they want but they never made one independent record. What I’m trying to say is despite any calculations on the part of those bands; I always looked to explore the bands that influenced the one’s I was currently listening to. It’s been a blessing to know that the stuff Paul is influenced by now comes from such a true and honest place.

James: What was it that so compelled you to seek out Don Zientara?

Ev: Working with Don Zientera represented just how serious we were about our music.

Paul: He represents an ideal that we wanted to be a part of, or at least have present in our music. We have so much respect for him and his legendary work with so many vital artists over his career, he was
definitely at the top of the list of people we wanted to work with. Just the thought of getting to record where so many of our biggest influences created some of our favorite music...we knew it would bring a special quality to our record.

Ev: So we looked into his studio and sent him a detailed email explaining who we were and what we were looking to do “No holds barred” and to my amazement we got a response in forty five minutes. When I tell you it was a “jump up and down moment”. I'm telling you the straight up truth. I say that in all honesty because Don is who he is. He's a legend, he's sixty two years old and only works with people he really wants to. He can pick and choose the projects he wants to and at this point, he's pretty selective. Ultimately he got the hard copy of our material and referred to “Exile Baby” as a “Knockout”. I still quote his response on a regular basis. It meant that much to me. We started talking on the phone and he was every bit the awesome gentleman I had hoped he'd be.  He knew it was two cousins from Brooklyn and what we wanted to undertake. I told him we had twelve songs and and a thirteenth we wanted to improvise. Six songs for the first act, an intermission track and six songs for the second act. He quoted us a very reasonable rate for the amount of work we had. We didn't even have the money yet but we had the mission. We'd do whatever it took to complete that mission. We were broke because of it but Don let us live at the studio while we were recording. At the end of the day he'd lock us in the studio and go home. It wasn't until the last day that we got to go and take a shower. Before this all happened we really had no way to pay for the sessions. Not to call it luck or anything but a month before we went into the studio Paul's Uncle Tom died and left him an inheritance. He had no idea what that would be at the time but about a week before the recording sessions that inheritance came in. In a sense it was heaven sent.

James: What elements did he bring to the album that another producer may have missed?

Paul: I think the most important thing Don brought to the recording was a totally open mind. He really let us be ourselves in the studio and encouraged us to really go for it. He didn't try to over complicate things or file down our claws. Yet, he found a way to contain our craziness and channel us through a filter that was overall more pleasing to the ear.

Ev: He had us record to analog tape. That def helped to achieve more of an organic sound. He also helped us to realize that we just had to get out of the way of the songs and let our musical souls shine. I refer to Don Z, as "high priest Don Z", cause we went to him for counsel and he was able to guide the way with ease.

James: We mentioned the amount of shows and how you've built on them year after year. You've definitely earned your Road Warrior status. What is it about being out there constantly that drives you and makes you crave more. What are the sacrifices and rewards? How does it balance out in the end?

Paul: You don't really know what you're gonna get when you're a new & mostly unknown band on the road. Some of our out of town gigs have been the BEST we've ever played. Sometimes no one shows up or you find yourself on a bill of bands that don't fit well. But its always exciting, and its that excitement that really drives us to continue. There's something totally gratifying about winning over a crowd on the road. It's very addictive.

Ev: The road is what happens when you decide to "go live" life instead of "wait for" life to hit. It's an indescribable feeling. Traveling to share music and experience with people who would otherwise be strangers from far and wide but finding a way to agree upon the common denominator of music, sharing in its language is a gift. The rewards are unending in the way of how much you can learn about yourself and about life and the different ways which people choose to live it.

James: Tell me about how you met up and got to touring with Greg Ginn? How did
your personalities mesh?

Ev: in 2009, the second year we were a band, we decided we wanted to double the amount of shows we did our first year. In our first year (2008) we did about 30 shows. Many local (Brooklyn, NYC and New Jersey) But we did make forays to both Cincinnati, Ohio and up through New England. Playing both Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. We decided we would do at least sixty shows in 2009 and try to up the ante as far as how many states we could expand and travel to and through. By July 9th, we had done 60 shows, so the new goal became one hundred. We felt we had to do it.

So, in that crazed year of 100 shows we met everyone everywhere all the time. We played with a band with a dude who had been in another band who was on SST back in the day and it led to Greg & I My Space messaging and then meeting and really hitting it off and discussing maybe touring together. That was late 2009. Come 2010 we did a week and a half with him up in the North East and agreed that we enjoyed touring together so we would do it again if we could. So we did it again in August and November of 2011 and this past February of 2012 and we leave to go out with him July 17th for about two weeks in the
North East. So things are cool with us as friends and musicians who are comfortable working around each other.

James: What are Greg's least favorite topics?

Ev: Anything pertaining to the "old-school" or nostalgic talk about the past and/or "hardcore".
He's a very current person. Very of the now.

James: Are you planning on working with him or SST on future releases?

Ev: Well, we did spend a day recording at SST with Greg sitting in on Bass with us, this past February. It was pretty amazingly intense. Plugged into some real deep territory.
Very heavy. Very long jams.We did it ALL improv. About ninety minutes worth of music recorded. As far as if and when that will be released, that would be an answer that would be out of my hands and in SST's.  I do know that it felt really great working down there at SST, in the studio and with Greg's engineer (Mike Shear) - so you never know, anything can happen - as far as us maybe recording there more but we keep all plans fluid and see what happens as it happens.

James: I've seen you live enough times to see both sides of the coin. I've seen crowds that totally got the message. I've also seen the clasped ears and running scared types a la the Pianos show. When we last spoke you mentioned the term "Surrender to the Trip".
What did you mean by that?

Paul: I guess it pretty much means you need to come to a Cinema Cinema show with an open mind. If you're not willing to give to it, it's not gonna give back. You'll get nothing out of it, and that's ok! It's hard for people sometimes to let go of what they think a band should sound like or how their used to seeing a band perform live.

Ev: We are going to start to carry Cinema Cinema ear plugs at our merch table, this way even those scared by the crush of volume can give themselves a chance to
"surrender to the trip". I guess that really means, jump in the ocean with us.. we don't know which way its going to flow but we are willing to have a true experience with ya whilst we find out, so open up and get lost in the wash of volume and force.

James: On stage you (Ev) and Paul have very different persona's. Paul is animated and almost engaging. While you (Ev) seem to be locked in some spiritual possession on your own. What are you going through and how do you separate your very intense stage presence with the laid back, soft spoken Ev I've gotten to know?

Ev: The Ev that's on stage is the primal, "plugged-into" & "fully entrenched-in it" guy. He only can come out when I am at my most free in making music and with Paul I can get there. It IS possession or trance or whatever you'd call it. It is. It's not conscious, planned or derived/prepared in any way shape or form. It's my chance to channel the moment and vent all the stuff inside me that is at the forefront at that particular time. It's a bonfire, it rages.

The Ev you've got to know, and please - pardon me for third-person-ing this... I'm just trying to answer the question as directly as i can.. but the Ev you've gotten to know is just as intense and "plugged in" as the dude on stage but I'm not nearly as angry or crazy as I must seem to most seeing us live for the first time. They don't know that its basically like I am having an episode of sorts, one that I get to have enhanced to a fever-like state by playing highly improvised, crazy-train music with my cousin, drummer, and best friend. It's a highly personal and intimate version of Ev you witness live...one I couldn't be all the time cause I can't get to that frenzied state without being totally unplugged from the world and floating in the orb of music, in total freedom... I don't know. I mean, are you supposed to particularly like or want to hang out with an artist who's music you like? I have seen Swans and Gira's intensity was extreme. It kind of overwhelmed me and I loved him more for it afterwards. Same with Lightning Bolt. It brought something into my life that wasn't there before. It pushed me.  That's the power of music and especially live performance and band's choices made on how to express themselves. But to get back to the answer, I'd say my fun loving & comical spirit most likely doesn't show through too much when I play live and most people get there first impression of me in that atmosphere. But what can I say? the stage Ev and the non-stage Ev are both me just being myself in the moment at hand.

James: What are the expectations with the new album? How will you measure it's success?

Paul: No matter what happens with the record, I will feel as if it's a total success. We've learned not to have any expectations when it comes to this business. So, I just have a great sense of accomplishment already attached to the record. The fact that we got to work with a legend who we can now call a good friend, not much can top that! We made something that we all could be proud of and that's an achievement in itself.

Ev: The two of us getting this record made together and doing all the rest of the work involved up to now has already made this entire endeavor a success for us. We expect to continue to work hard and play as often as we can and know better than to expect anything more then what we earn.

cinema cinema;

Monday, July 9, 2012

Holy City Zoo - Nobody Sells For Less EP

As I headed downstairs I peaked downward into the hallway thinking to myself "this is the day that fucking record is going to show up in my postal box." "This is the day my train of thought will get the tracks it needs to plot its course."
As of late the mail man has been putting most of my records inside the door due to a rash of thefts in the neighborhood." Truth be told, I've been listening to the record for some time now. I just needed to have my hands on the actual product in order to give it the treatment I felt it deserved. That alone would unleash the Hunter Thompson within. Holding the record would rejuvenate the thoughts and feelings that crystalized the numerous conversations and transactions with band members about the songs, the recording, the packaging; All building up to the sonic orgasm that would be "Nobody Sells For Less".

Holy City Zoo are a hard band to generalize. The New Brunswick, NJ powerhouse take all the best elements of Hard Rock, Post Hardcore and Punk to form this unstoppable juggernaut. As I put the needle to the record I was immediately hooked by the full blown chaos that ensues with the the opening of "WW5". The track is a mind fuck with it's sonic prowess. Match that chaotic discord with an anthemic, singalong chorus and you've got a track that will have you climbing up the walls.
"Afterburner" opens with post core guitar riffs that immediately had me thinking of the band Quicksand. Joe Lanza's voice cries out like a madman, perfectly highlighting the controlled chaos that surrounds him.
The B side opens with "Paper Beats Rock" a track highlighted by a dynamic, layered guitar sound that has its share of beauty and eccentricities. "Meadowlark Lemon" opens with a nice sense of melody that gives way to a crash and burn style that really ties the record together nicely.
Add to that the bonus download tracks and you've got a record that's worthy of worship and celebratory human sacrifice. I had very high expectations for this record coming in.
Thanks to Holy City Zoo for far exceeding them. James Damion

Get it Here

An Interview with Jersey Beat's Jim Testa

Chances are, if you're from the Tri-state area and had even the slightest interest in local music over the last thirty years. You've more than likely heard of Jim Testa and Jersey Beat. His passion, dedication and longevity have earned him the love and respect of musicians and fans alike. In the Spring of 2010 I gingerly approached Jim at ABC No Rio about contributing to the site. Since then I've been an occasional contributor as both a photographer and writer. All the while, learning from a walking encyclopedia of music knowledge and love. Learning, each step of the way, how to carry myself when it came to doing my own blog. Last week I finally got to ask some of the questions that had been rattling around my head since that fateful day on the Lower East Side. Thanks to Jim for his time and what he's passed on to me over the past years. James Damion

James: You're someone that really needs no introduction. However, I would love to give our readers a little background on what you do. Can you fill us in on the origins of Jersey Beat and what you were setting out to accomplish when you started the first issue?

Photo of Jim Testa courtesy of Dan Bracalia
Jim Testa: One of my best friends at Rutgers,       Howard Wuelfing,  moved to Washington DC when we graduated and we kept in close touch.    Howard became involved in the very beginnings of the D.C. indie and hardcore scenes and started a fanzine called Discords.  (This was before there was even a Dischord Records.)  In the zine, he had scene reports  (this was years before Maximum Rock N Roll had the same idea)  from places like Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago... and I became the columnist  from New Jersey, since I was involved in the early Hoboken scene at that time.   I called the column Jersey Beat, a pun on "Mersey Beat," which was a term used to describe the early Beatles (since Liverpool was on the Mersey River, and Hoboken was being called "the new Liverpool" back then.)  Long story short, Howard had to stop publishing his fanzine.  I was having so much fun doing the column that I just spun it off into a zine of its own and kept the name.  That was about April, 1982.

James: Fanzine culture was a lot different back then. Aside from writing for Discords, were there any fanzines, mags or rock writers that you particularly looked to for inspiration?
How would you describe your approach to writing the zine back then? Has that blueprint changed much in the thirty years you've been doing this?

Jim Testa: One of the things I think it's hard for people today to grasp is how small a community the zine/indie rock/college radio world was back in the Eighties. There were relatively few people involved and it seemed like we all knew each other.  I wrote for lots of other zines and magazines, including The Bob, Matter, Boston Rock, and for one issue (before it went bankrupt,) New York Rocker.  That was pretty common.  Steve Albini and Gerard Cosloy also wrote for Matter; try to imagine the three of us writing for the same publication today! Jim DeRogatis and Karen Schoemer wrote for Jersey Beat when they were still in college, then for Matter and The Bob, and eventually went pro;  Jim wound up at the Chicago Sun-Times and Karen wrote for Newsweek and the NY Times.

My two favorite writers were Lester Bangs (who died about a month before the first official issue of Jersey Beat came out, oddly enough) and Hunter Thompson, but they were such originals that I never considered them role models.  They influenced me to be passionate and creative, but in terms of style, my real hero was Jimmy Breslin, the hard-boiled newspaper columnist.  There's a famous story that at JFK's funeral, all the other press covered the ceremony and the Kennedy family and other politicians.   Breslin found the gravedigger who dug JFK's grave and talked to him.  That's the kind of angle I try to look for when I'm writing a story.  Try to look at the person or event and put a little spin on it.

My real guiding principle when I started Jersey Beat was that I'd write about anything that interested me.  In 1982, when all this started,  I was a regular at Maxwell's and writing about bands like the Bongos and Feelies, but I was also really into the early NJ hardcore scene and bands like Adrenalin OD.  There were a lot of great zines that kept a pretty narrow focus (like Al Quint's excellent Suburban Voice, which only covered hardcore and punk.)
I never wanted to do that.  Jersey Beat has always been about any and all kinds of music, which is why there was a "Quiet Corner" column for years about folksingers. In the Nineties, we had a ska column when that was hugely popular. We've had various people do metal columns over the years.  I really wish I had someone right now who was heavily into EDM and could cover that for us.

James: You're one of the many successes when it comes to people who came from the print age but managed to not only survive but thrive in the digital age. Did you see the writing on the wall? What was the transition like for you? Was there any gap between the last issue of Jersey Beat and Jersey Beat's online presence?

Jim Testa: Jersey Beat went online about as soon as it was humanly possible.
Don't forget, in 1982,  we had manual typewriters and scissors and rubber cement.
And our imaginations.  Luckily at work I got to work with personal computers from their first introduction as clunky DOS machines to Windows 3.0 to today. Jersey Beat had one of the first zine websites (I am pretty sure it was www.earthlink.net~jerseybeat.)  I acquired the JerseyBeat.com domain in 1997.

At first, since dial up was so slow and you could only use very minimal graphics and small photos, the website was really just an online advertisement for the print zine. But as it became easier and easier to put content online, the website became an adjunct to the print zine.  (Also we'd only do three print issues a year, so we could do live reviews and more timely stuff online in between print issues.) So there was never any sort of gap. I originally had every intention of doing at least one more print issue (which would have been #78) but time and circumstances just worked against me and I never got to do it. People always talk about Nirvana and Green Day changing mainstream culture, but the success of those bands really trickled down into the underground. Everybody was making money in the Nineties and labels like SST, Lookout, Epitaph, and so on put a lot of their profits back into the scene by supporting fanzines with advertising and promos. The loss of advertising hurt but what was even worse was the loss of distribution.  After See Hear (the fanzine store in the East Village) closed and then Tower shut down its distribution,  there was no way to sell zines except out of a backpack at shows.  So I was printing a thousand copies and giving away 950 of them, and maybe selling 50 by mail order.

James: In doing this blog I quickly realized that I can't be in more than one place at the same time. From working with you I've noticed you often cover more than one event in a day on your own. Between your day job, Jersey Beat, the podcast and every thing else, do you ever think that maybe your spreading yourself thin? Does it ever take a toll on your personal life and relationships?

Jim Testa: I think the secret of my longevity has been that  whenever I start feeling burnt out, I can take a step back and give myself a little time to recharge. Jersey Beat has never been my day job, in fact it's never been a source of income.
From the reputation I built doing the zine, I have been able to freelance for magazines and newspapers and that does bring in a little extra money, but I've never been so busy as a freelancer that it's intruded on my time.  My weekly radio show for BlowupRadio.com and AsburyMusic.com takes up a few hours a week, and that's mostly just downloading mp3s from music blogs and bands to play on the show.  Recording the actual show takes maybe two hours and I usually do that on the weekends.  I only do a podcast once a month or so so that doesn't take up much time. And I really don't go out to see bands - especially on weeknights - as often as I used to.

James: In all my years, I've not come across a single person with knowledge of Jersey Beat that didn't have the nicest things to say and share about you. Hard to fathom with the kind of work you do. How do you see yourself? A critic? A fan? A writer? Do you see yourself doing this ten, twenty years down the road? What do you think is the main characteristic responsible for your longevity and consistency?

Jim Testa: I'd probably put it in this order - writer / fan /critic.  Some people make music and it's what they do for a while; some people are musicians and it's who they are. Same with writing.  It's no secret that I am - even at my advanced age - still a huge fan and really enjoy seeing bands and listening to music.  And I'd like to think that after all these years, I have the perspective and taste to render intelligent commentary on it.

I recently recruited a new writer for JerseyBeat.com and he asked if he was allowed to write negative reviews since so much of the site was so positive.  That took me back a second, but I guess it's true.  The fact of the matter is that there is more music out there than there has ever been, and we can only write about a little bit of it.  So I do tend to focus on the good stuff - especially the things I do myself.
I think if you look through the site hard enough, you'll find a few negative reviews or at least some constructive criticism in there with all the raves.  I probably spew more venom on Twitter and Facebook these days if I have something negative to say or a snarky comment to make.  I really do look at those forms of social media as an extension of the zine, or at least of my role as a media critic.  If I'm going to be remembered, I guess I'd like it to be because people thought I was fair and passionate and cared not just about the music, but the people who create it and the fans who enjoy it.

James: I'm glad you mentioned that. I was talking to my blog partner Dave and mentioned how most of our reviews were very positive. I don't want to be mean or become a jaded critic; but in the same breath, I don't want our readers or the artists to think we're kissing ass or that we're push overs. His response was that we really don't have the energy and time to cover the things we really don't like. Your answer gave me a sense of comfort in that we're going about things the right way.

Jim Testa:  I would agree with that.  When I did Jersey Beat as a print zine, there were dozens of record reviews in every issue.  Most of them were shorter than what we print online, and there was a smaller pool of material to choose from, so we printed lots of snarky, funny, snotty, negative reviews.  Today, I just don't bother with something I know no one is going to like or care about, there's just too much music being created and pointed in our direction. And it's harder to get people to read it. Even at the height of the DIY movement, there were only maybe a dozen fanzines anybody really cared about. Today there are hundreds if not thousands of music blogs competing for attention.

Friday, July 6, 2012

An Interview with Everymen's Tom Barrett

Photo courtesy of Mark Townsend
Tom Barrett is a Jersey City musician best known for his work with ¡No Pasaran!,
WJ and the Sweet Sacrifice and
The Everymen. I first met Tom in 2010 when I interviewed the band ¡No Pasaran! in Clifton. Since then our paths have crossed numerous times but due to my own shyness, I've rarely gotten further than a passing hello or a friendly nod. In talking to Tom a bit more over the past weeks; I've grown to learn that shyness is a characteristic we both share. Here's my shot of changing that for at least one of us.
James Damion

You very recently had some of your gear stolen. Can you share what happened and what was taken from you?

Yes, somebody broke into the trunk of my car across from our apartment in Jersey City while we were sleeping and stole my keyboard, electric guitar and suitcase filled with pedals and cords. It sucks. I'm still reeling from it.

Were you at all surprised by the outpouring of support from friends and in particular the members of the Tiny Giants Collective?

I was kind of surprised, just because apart from  playing in a couple of TG-affiliated bands and chiming in with the occasional comment on the TG Facebook page, I'm not very participatory in that world. I haven't been to any meetings and don't make it out to a lot of the shows, only because I've become a homebody and don't go to a lot of shows in general anymore. I was definitely moved by all the gestures, though. It speaks volumes about their character. They're good people.

One of the things that took me a lifetime to embrace was accepting help from friends or family when I needed it the most. You seemed pretty reluctant with the idea of us possibly chipping in. May I ask why?

That's just my nature. I'm stubborn. It's the same thing as when someone offers to grab my amp or something at a show, I'm real quick to say no thanks most of the time. It's a
knee-jerk reaction. Simple as that.

I missed your fairly recent solo experience but was very touched by the video recording. You're pretty used to being the guy behind the drum set. Was it a challenge for you to get up there and put your heart on display like that? I ask that because the performance was quite touching and real.

Thanks, I appreciate it. I wouldn't really call it a challenge because by the time I played that show, I'd already spent the previous few months cutting my teeth at open mics around NYC. Those were a little terrifying. I just tried to have fun with it and enjoy myself, and it seemed to go over well. I didn't think of it too much as putting my heart on display or anything, I just treated it like a normal gig. If there was anything I was nervous about, it would be that I don't have a ton of songs and had to play a 30-minute set. It wasn't too hard. I played a few covers.

How did that come about and what inspired the move from the drums to the keys?

Well, I'd been wanting to do this for a long time, to write songs and get up and play them for people. I'd spent many years wandering around the house playing Beck or Lou Barlow songs or whatever, trying to write my own all along.
I've always been very self-conscious about my low, warbly voice, though. I'd hardly play anything for anyone, even covers. It was only last fall that I'd finally thrown some caution to the wind and let some friends in on some songs I was doing. They gave good feedback so I started playing out and doing some more recording.

I'm actually in the middle of making a record with my friend Tommy Unish right now, whom you've seen jump onstage from time to time with No Pasaran. He recorded our
"Porter in the Making" EP, and he's manning the controls on this one as well. It'll be finished soon.

The move to keys was inspired by a combination of wanting to change things up and being sort of bored with the drums. Mikey had asked me in the past to play keys with The Everymen, but I was always too busy. Now with No Pasaran on hiatus and being out of WJ, I finally have the time.

The last time I saw you perform was with The Everymen. Are you in the band now or was this a fill in situation? Is this the first band you've played in where your not keeping the beat?

This is not the first band I've not played drums in. I started out playing guitar, so that's what I was doing in the first bands I ever played with, back when I was like 16 or 17. Mikey and I kind of got to know each other from playing in American Watercolor Movement together five years ago. He played guitar, I played guitar and keys.

With The Everymen, I'm as much a part of that band as I can be. They have what I refer to as a very strict open-door policy, which is nice for me. I'm very committed to the band, but also free to do what I want outside of it. I can't make it to all the shows, but try to be around for as many as I can. So far, it's been a blast. I've only been a part of it for a few months and I've already played like 20 shows. It's very active. Mikey's a driven dude.

In mentioning The Everymen and your solo performance I can't help but wonder about
¡No Pasaran!. I was kind of shocked when I heard the band had decided to go on hiatus.  What was the reason behind it and is it a break or a break up, so to say?

It's a break. It's sort of my doing. We met up one night back in December to talk about our plans and I kind of sprung it on them that I needed some time off, at least a few months. I don't think they were too surprised. There were a few reasons why I felt it was necessary, the main one being I wanted to devote some time to something new and different, like the acoustic stuff. They understand, it's completely amicable. Maybe we'll get it together at some point, but right now Eric and Romel are happy in Life Eaters, and I'm happy doing my own thing and playing in the Everymen.

One of my favorite musical moments of the last year was your performance with WJ and the Sweet Sacrifice in Newark. I had been hearing great things about the band but that was my first opportunity to see them live. Do you still perform with them?

Nah, I left in the fall. I was a part of that band for two years. It was a lot of fun and I had some great experiences with them, and I became closer with the members of that band than I ever was before, but there was some serious frustration going on. I won't go into any details, but it had been brewing for a while. Again, they weren't surprised by my decision. I left on good terms and on a high note. That Brick City show was a fun one.

Is there a special bond that band members have that people outside the group can never quite break or fully understand? I ask this out of pure curiosity because I've always sensed it. This impenetrable force that remains unbroken.

Definitely. I've been in a few bands, sometimes simultaneously, and each had its own set of quirks and idiosyncracies that outside folks probably didn't get, for sure. A band relationship is a relationship like any other, though. I have friends with whom I share this strange senses of humor that might be completely lost on other people, but they understand it perfectly at the same time. Maybe not the quirks themselves, but why they exist. It's the same with bands, though I've never taken any kind of us-versus-them stance on it.
You just stick with the people you're attracted to and hope things work out.

In the times we've talked I've mentioned social awkwardness/anxiety and the sense of being just outside. You've always struck me as a shy, kind of introverted person. How would you describe yourself?

I'm pretty moody and mostly like to keep to myself. I think some people might think I'm sort of hard to approach, but it's not really true. I've come out of my shell a bit.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Looking Back; An Interview with Gavin Van Vlack

Shortly after attending the very disappointing opening night of the movie 
"American Hardcore" I set out to interview a number of people who, for me, helped define my experience on the NYHC scene during my early years. I found the movie had almost completely omitted the stories of those that participated in what was happening musically in New York City. That could have come down to the time frame covered or perhaps the writers own experience. Whatever the case, I felt I needed to seek out some of the characters whose music and mere presence helped to shape this wide eyed kid to here their personal stories and feelings on that very formidable time.  One afternoon I arranged to meet Gavin at Five Points Fitness where was a trainer on Broadway off of Canal street. As I sat and waited I gazed at the television which was playing a video of some of the East Asian kickboxing matches. As I gazed at the pictures and profiles of the trainers I began to question my decisions to meet this somewhat intimidating character from my past. Within a few minutes Gavin emerged from the back room. He smiled and extended his hand 
“James Unite, how are you?” Whatever trepidation or insecurity I may have felt quickly faded from my consciousness. I found him to be a very warm, mindful person with a quick wit and sense of humor. Amongst the sound of gym members pounding heavy bags and workout music blaring in the background I got to know the person who's riffs helped shape my taste in music. Gavin's band Absolution are currently in the studio working on a new record. Hopefully, we'll be getting a taste of what's to come soon. Until then... James Damion

James: What kind of musical background did you have prior to being involved with Hardcore?

Gavin: I was brought up on a lot of Classical and Jazz. Artists like Miles Davis,
Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and a lot of artists like that. I was also brought up on a lot of Classical.

James: That’s interesting considering how raw an art form Hardcore is. Coming from that musical background it’s hard to see how this music would gel for you.

Gavin: Well, the whole thing with music is the feeling and the color of it. If you listen to a lot of the music today. There are so many symphonic sounding riffs. If you listen to any cello parts or strings in classical music. It is really raw and jagged. The great thing about  Jazz or the Blues is that it’s raw. It came from the heart.  Not like say Kenny G. A lot of people tell me “Gavin, you’re just old and jaded” But to me a lot of today’s Hardcore is sort of what Kenny G is to Jazz. It’s like watching kids play with dolls.

James: What were some of the bands that got you going to shows and the elements that drew you to Hardcore?

Gavin: At the time you just had to be down with the Cro-mags.  It was like if you weren’t down with them you weren’t going to live to long. Of course there were the Bad Brains and Antidote. Bands that were just so heavy like Damage and Cause for Alarm. We were all just misfits who kind of fit in.
After a while it took on a sort of “Lord of the Flies” likeness. I think it was also that a lot of us came from a background where we didn’t really have a family module. But sometimes people look at it like it was just all these street kids. Mark Ryan from Supertouch was this suburban kid who at 13 years old was taking the train into the city to hang out. It was because he wasn’t satisfied with what his home town gave him. People always talk about the city kids but there were a lot of people like Mark. Jimmy G. was more of a city kid from Queens but there were others like Robbie Crypt Crash and Keith Burkhardt from
Cause for Alarm. They were people who gravitated towards the city.

James: Tell me about the NY Hoods. They were somewhat of a launching point for me.
One of the bands I started seeing early on.

Gavin: I was homeless and working the door for this topless strip bar. My only skill was really being a musician. I was working at this nightclub and I remember seeing this flyer. Band looking for guitarist. I said to myself “Fuck it. A gig’s a gig.” So I jumped in to it. It was great for what it was. There were definitely a difference in musical opinions and we wanted things to go. They were a lot more straight forward with what they wanted to do. They were like a lot of Queens bands. They had that rock edge. Kind of the way Token Entry was. That was the Queens style. They were just a little more conservative in the way they went about things. Myself, I was a lot more reckless. I was a lot more experimental. It was the way I lived.

James: At one point in time there was supposed to be a split album with the band Krakdown. How did you guys become friends with them?

Gavin: The guys from Krakdown were good friends of mine. We hung out and went to shows together. Me and Jay had the same attitude “Don’t cross us.” We were just kids trying to prove ourselves. The Krakdown guys knew the Hoods because Bobby’s brother played in Token Entry. So we were all in this community together. The guys from the NY Hoods ended up putting out an EP that was out for about a second. I don’t know what happened with the split. As for the Hoods. We still cross paths every now and then. I run into Kevin every now and then. Just out of the blue. I have no idea what Bobby is doing. I think Mike became a cop.

James: Were you in Side by Side at the same time as the NY Hoods?

Gavin: Yes, I was living with Billy from Side by Side. I was playing with both bands. I quit Side by Side out of loyalty to the Hoods. Then I got thrown out of the Hoods. After that I got into some legal problems that I don’t want to talk about.
I kind of left town for a while. While I was away there were a lot of people talking shit about me. The whole time I was gone there was one person who had my back the whole time was Jules from Side by Side.
He went up against some people who at the time were pretty big figureheads in the Hardcore Scene. Because I wasn’t around I was easy to blame for a lot of shit that had gone down. When I came back about five months later everything had changed so much. That’s when I started Absolution.
James: Back then you had a reputation as a tough guy. Someone who would kick your teeth in if you looked at him wrong. Was that image more perceived or was that reality?

Gavin: It was very real at the time. I am very much an iconoclast. I don’t like pack mentalities. If I see five guys fucking with a kid. I am going to fuck with them.

James: There were certain people back then that you just knew to stay clear of. You were one of those people who looked like he was going to kick someone’s ass even when you were smiling. I talk to you now and I see a different person.

Gavin: A lot of it is size. I’ve seen guys like John Joseph take out three guys twice his size. I’ve seen Harley take on guys way bigger than him. Richie Birkenhead who no one would think of. I’ve seen Richie bring people to the brink of death. He’s one of those ultimate nice guys. But if you cross him. You better watch out. He’s one of the nicest, most intellectual, open and honest people you’re ever going to meet.  Just don’t cross him. I’ve seen the bully’s and I’ve seen the tough guys. I had this personality where I’d be “okay, let’s go.”
But that was the 80’s and New York was a much different town. I was very much a different person.

James: We’re a few blocks away from the Lower East Side now. There’s no comparing the way it is now to the way it was in the early 80’s.

Gavin: The city that we live in is a city of ghosts.

James: What would you consider the pinnacle of New York Hardcore?

Gavin: For me it was 1985-1990. I say that knowing my time in Burn came after that.
But when I was in Burn I despised the Hardcore scene.

James: At the time did you feel that it was something that was going to last?

Gavin: I didn’t care. I was always the kind of guy that was interested in what was next.
I didn’t think it would last because I knew the people who were at the wheel were full of shit. There were people who were screaming about unity and not selling out. There was so much bullshit. When you get down to it...it’s music. How can someone criticize someone for making money from their art? There were also people who were trying to push their political agendas. There were a lot of people shouting “We’re about this.” Then I questioned “Well then, why do you do that?” There were just a lot of hypocrites. I think there was just a time when we thought we had it all down and we just didn’t. I think it’s unrealistic to think anything is going to last. To think that we’d be fifty years old and still doing that. It’s pretty pathetic. You just have to evolve. Stagnation is one of the worst things you can do.
That insanity of running in circles. That’s the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

James: There were a lot of outside elements that came into hardcore in the mid to late 80’s. Do you think any of them particularly led to the demise of that era?

Gavin: I think it was change. A lot of people can point to gangs but for me to say I am against gangs is to say I’m against kids organizing. You can say religion but there’s a very strong difference between Religion and Spirituality. Religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve been there. As far as Metal goes.... Fuck, Hardcore came out of Metal. Music doesn’t discriminate. People are afraid of change. There always that “You don’t look like me.” attitude. Which everyone is guilty of. It sucks that someone like a skinhead would discriminate against someone because they have long hair. Or a punk would discriminate against a kid who was straightedge. It sucks. Music doesn’t discriminate. Listen to the Blues and you’ll see. People can talk about Skrewdriver but to me that’s not music. It’s idiots playing instruments.

James: We talked about bands all starting to sound the same. When I first heard Absolution I thought these guys sound different than anything coming out these days. It doesn’t even sound like anything I’ve ever heard. Was that something you were going for? Were you looking to break from the pack?

Gavin: Yes, absolutely. I was sick of Hardcore. I despised Hardcore. That was my vengeance against what had become so homogenous.
To me there was so much more to do. Someone once told me that Absolution and Burn were the cornerstones of Emo. (laughter erupts)

James: What the fuck? I’ve never heard anything close to that.

Gavin: When I think of Emo I think of Rites of Spring and Embrace. With Absolution I wanted something different. I’d been away from New York for so long. I came back and had gone to a couple of shows. I thought “What the Fuck happened? This sucks.” It was all Gray Champion sweatshirts. I wanted to take the energy from that and make something new.
I remember people saying that I was a great guitarist and TC3 (Tom Capone) was a great guitarist. I would point to Vic from Nausea and say “None of us could tie his fucking shoe laces.” Such a great guitarist and a really humble guy.

James: What led to the end of Absolution?

Gavin: I was an ass and i quit. I just didn’t like the direction the band was going in.
I was just on a lot of drugs.

James: How did drugs and alcohol effect your life.

Gavin: It works for a while. (laughs) it gave me a certain edge at that time in my life.
After a while it just stopped working for me. When I did the Die 116 Dynacool record, my God, there was so much cocaine and we were drinking like.......

James: Not a spiritual thing.

Gavin: (laughs) No, not at all. But that was the thing. We drank and we wrote music.
 That was it.

James: Did you feel you had to be angry or fucked up to write. Did you feel you had to draw from these dark experiences?

Gavin: It comes from different places but there’s something about dipping into depression to write a song. But there’s also that resolution that helps you dig yourself out of it. I definitely hit the bottom. I had to change my life. I moved to L.A. and I stopped drinking and started living better. I started doing the band Big Collapse. I was working as a trainer and I had lost everything. I needed a change. I needed to get my life together. Getting back to Absolution and Burn. I was just in a very dark time in my life. There was a time when I believed in the Hardcore scene. I just found out that it was all fucking lies. I was looking for the truth in all the wrong places. There was just so much dishonorable shit going on. So many people who were screwing each other over. What drove me away was not the idealism. It was the realization.

James: As an outsider looking in it seemed that you and Chaka had a very special friendship.

Gavin: We dealt with Burn on a business kind of relationship. We came to a point where we just didn’t want to deal with each other. There was a lot of tension between us. I ran into him on the street recently and I still felt that tension. I could never hate him but our relationship is like surviving a plane crash.

James: I talk to a lot of people who site Burn as their all time favorite Hardcore band. I listen to that first EP on a daily basis. It still moves me.
Gavin: Wow, that’s insane.

James: The band recently released two more EP’s. One containing new material. Is there a chance of a
Burn Discography?

Gavin: We’re working on that right now. There are going to be some early demos with the drummer from Life’s Blood and basically all the material we released. It’s in the works.
As for a reunion that would be up to me and Chaka if we wanted to play any shows. I get calls all the time about a reunion and it’s doable. Nothing these days is impossible. It would just come down to whether or not Chaka and I want to do it. Music is the closest way you can come to immortality.
Orson Well’s once said “there should be no artists,only their art.”. I would say that most people like my music because my music is much more clearer than I am. People ask about Burn a lot. We were just four kids trying to survive and not kill each other. We were always fighting and arguing but what mattered most was the music.

James: How did you become interested in Buddhism and how does it relate to what your doing now?

Gavin: It actually started with muay thai  kickboxing. It’s something i teach now. A friend of mine trained in Nepal. When he came back I trained with him. He was very much into the Buddhist culture. I started reading and it just made sense to me. It made sense out of absolute chaos. I try to make it a part of my life. I’m trying to leave as positive a footprint on people lives and on this world as possible. Utah Phillips said “we have all these rules, we have a constitution, we have all these religions. When it comes down to it there’s good and theirs bad. Good people don’t need it and bad people don’t pay attention to it. If you feel  like you shouldn’t be doing something. You probably shouldn’t.

James: Has Buddhism helped you deal with some of the demons from your past?

Gavin: it’s all about acceptance and solutions. If you can’t accept the problems and the pain in your life.  You better find a solution.

James: Are you more at peace with yourself now?

Gavin: Yes, I can say I am. I get annoyed at myself when I slip into old ways of thinking. Those are patterns of behavior. My life’s better than it’s ever been. I have this great work environment. I work in shorts and a tee shirt. The people I work with are awesome.
They're all great people who have been in the industry for a long time. This is not your average run of the mill gym.

James: Has your experience in Hardcore helped to shape you? Has it had an indelible effect on your life and the way you live it today?

Gavin: Absolutely, yes. I would not be the person I am today without it. It taught me a lot about life. I try to think I am a guy that can be relied on and trusted. There was a point in my life when I didn’t trust people. That was the way I got by. It took those experiences to shape me. Make me a better person.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Looking Back; An Interview with Norman Brannon

It’s funny how you think you know someone by listening to their band or reading their fanzine. Though I had never met Norm I felt as if I knew him. I had read every issue of  his fanzine Anti-Matter from cover to cover. I fell in love with his band Texas is the Reason and poured over every lyric as if it were scripture. I had met numerous people who shared stories about him. But I never really knew him. Not in any sense. When I heard his fanzine
Anti-matter was being turned into a book I knew I wanted to talk to him. This was my chance to get to know Norm like he had gotten to know so many people through the interviews in his fanzine and the music he’s created over the years. He had given me his number to set up an interview at one time or another. Like with most people I put off calling for weeks. I put it on my “To call” list. This past weekend I rang him up to set up our meeting.

We met up at Chelsea Piers on the West side Highway to talk about life, music, spirituality and of course the Anti-Matter book. (due in November from Revelation records) We talked for about three hours over veggie burgers and fries. During those three hours we dealt with the occasional sounds of helicopters, delivery trucks and passing vessels. It was a well spent three hours for me. I finally got to know the real Norman Brannon. James Damion

(Originally posted on Unite Fanzine 06/15/2008)

James: Okay Norm, what’s with this Law & Order obsession of yours?

Norm: You know they film it here?
I used to like coming here because it’s so quiet. I found out they did a lot of the filming here.
 I wasn’t an old school watcher.
It didn’t really happen until I got into that car accident I was telling you about.
I was in the hospital for about a month and a half to two months. Even after I got out of the hospital I couldn’t really walk well. When I was in the hospital I couldn’t walk at all. Once I got out I didn’t want to walk. I had one of those walkers with the tennis balls on it. At the time I lived in a duplex townhouse. I didn’t really like going up and down the stairs. I just kind of laid in bed or went downstairs and watched TV for hours. It just so happens that Law & Order is on all the time. I started with Law & Order SVU. Then there was the original and Criminal Intent. Then Trial By Jury came around. I had all the DVD’s and I was well, obsessed with it. I kind of still am. I still think it’s the greatest show on television ever.

James: I’m with you on that. It’s definitely my all time favorite show. I just don’t have the DVD’s or the Board Game. I had a similar experience of being laid up because of brain surgery. I was also hooked. I think it’s on 24/7 365 days a year somewhere in the world.

Norm: There was actually a website dedicated to the series. Telling you where and when it would be on. It also told you which episodes. It was like a TV Guide dedicated entirely to Law & Order.

James: What is it that draws you to the show?

Norm: I think I just realized after a while that I really missed New York. The accident happened in San Francisco. I had been living there for about four years. I wouldn’t say I was in a rut. I had work that I enjoyed. I was helping to manage a website and I ran to House Music record labels. I was pretty busy in the House Music world. I was traveling to D.J.
I was spinning a lot. I was putting out records I loved. But at the end of the day I never really connected with San Francisco. I just didn’t connect with the people I met there.
(At least not in a deep way) That kind of bummed me out. I would watch the show and I would see the Lower East Side and the East Village. It was like watching  New York Porn.
It was everything I loved about work and it made me want to come back.

James: I had been trying to find you through the normal channels and I always knew you as Norm Arenas. You changed your name to Norman Brannon. I was wondering what brought about that change?

Norm: The name change was a long time coming. Something I had talked about for the last ten years. I always had a very turbulent family life. About two or three years ago I came to the conclusion that the name itself was just baggage I didn’t need. Every time I heard the name it reminded me of that or them. I didn’t feel connected to it. I felt that changing my name I was leaving the last vestiges of that life behind. I was choosing a name that was completely arbitrary and meaningless. It didn’t have any meaning attached to it. It was a name I created. (An individual expression) When I hear the name Brannon, if I feel bad about it it’s my fault. If I hear the name Arenas if I feel bad I know it’s not my fault. I had to work out a lot of emotions before I changed my name. That was a bit difficult. A lot of it was very therapy intensive. It’s really like figuring out yourself and making sure you’re comfortable with every angle of the issue you have. I came to a point where I thought,  “Okay, I’m totally in a good place with this. I’m at peace with this now.” Changing the name wasn’t out of spite which I’m sure at one point in my life was a large part of it. But at the time it wasn’t that way. It was a positive thing.

James: I’ve had a lot of similar issues with my family. (Particularly my Father) I have thought numerous times about changing my name legally. I don’t feel any connection to him and his name only brings me bad memories and pain. I just thought it was too much trouble. You mentioned the term“Therapy Intensive” Did you ever seek therapy? I was having a conversation with someone I interviewed recently. We were just talking about similar experiences we shared. At one point he cocked his head and asked, “Have you ever gone to therapy”? I had thought about it at one point and kind of dismissed it as something a weaker person might do. I figured I’d handled it myself this whole time. Why do that?

Norm: Yes, I did after the accident. Part of injury was neuro psychological. Meaning I also had a brain injury. I had some issues I had to work with as well on a neuro psychopathic level. It became an issue of brain chemistry and science. One of the things that this kind of brain injury triggers is depression, which is something, I’ve always had. The depression the injury triggered was really, really bad. It was something I thought could be best served by with a neuro physiologist.  (Someone who understood neurology and psychology.) Once I started I began feeling good about it. Once the neurological aspect of the issue faded I continued to get therapy for my depression for another six months. I think it was helpful but it’s different for everybody. I can see where someone might be hesitant. I remember being really surprised when I was interviewing Richie Birkenhead. (Underdog/Into Another) The first question I asked was “Tell me something that no one would know about you. He said,
“Well, I just came back from therapy.” I was speechless. At the time I really didn’t know anyone who had sought therapy. My conception of what it would be was very different from what it turned out to be. The reality of it is you just it in a room and talk. You talk a lot. Essentially, it’s thinking out loud. Which I think is healthy. It’s a good way of organizing your thoughts and your objectives. It also puts you in a position where say something out load that you’ve been thinking. Maybe something that makes you angry. Then you think to yourself, “Wow, that sounds stupid out loud.”

James: How did the idea for the book come about and how did Revelation Records come into the picture?

Norm: Interestingly enough the actual book was conceived in 1998. I actually signed a contract with Revelation to do the book in 1998. I was living in Chicago at the time and I had just quit the magazine I had been writing for.
I thought the Anti-Matter anthology would be a fun project. A nice way to tie up loose ends. Because Texas is the Reason was so popular Anti-Matter received this posthumous attention that as rather strange. I used to joke with my friend Trevor about how Texas is the Reason was the only band with ex-members of a Fanzine. You would go to shows and see a flyer that said “ex-members of Shelter, 108, Anti-Matter”.
People would see that and during interviews would say, “I’ve never seen that. What was Anti-Matter?”. The idea of a book was for everyone to see what it was. I had moved to Chicago and during an eight-year period we hired around five designers who all worked on the project until they just dropped it. It was just too difficult. It was a difficult project. Doing it took a lot of work and a sense of compulsive mania to design a book. Especially to a point where I’m going to be psyched about it. One designer after another kept falling off.
I started thinking, “This just isn’t going to work. I’ll just give the advance money back.”. There were times when I really started to think like that. About a year ago I started hanging out with this guy Dan who I had met. He has this blog site that’s titled
“Ultra Sparky”. We became super tight super fast. We just became really good friends.
I realized that he’s designed books. Not only that but he had a fanzine back in the day. He was familiar with the culture and the aesthetics of the culture. He took on the project and he was the first designer that really put himself into it and was able to finish it. From there it all just came together. What’s interesting to me is I believe that this is the best time for this to happen. I think it would have been a mistake if we would have put it out in 1999, 2002 or even 2004. I think 2007 is the right time because now we can actually look back at the 90’s objectively. We can now look back at it as a time past. I find that the 90’s are unique era. (The bands and the fanzines that were a part of it.) The Internet happened during the middle of the decade. These are things that make the era completely unique. Because Anti-Matter never talked specifically about music it remains current. Reading those interviews last year
I realized that these interviews could have happened yesterday. That made me feel really great about the project. The idea that we could look at this book as a group of individuals that were operating in the same circle at a certain time. Whether or not they had great records at the time, which they did, becomes irrelevant. It’s about growing up.

James: Is being obsessive-compulsive part of your nature?

Norm: Well, I’ve never been diagnosed and I don’t do rituals but….

James: From reading the zine I was always under the impression that you did everything 200%.

Norm: It wasn’t as much a percentage than it was a feeling that I really don’t want there to be accidents. This is something that resonates through me. I really enjoy doing things very carefully.  That’s like saying the right word or describing something with the right word. Playing the right chord. Whatever it is I’m doing I don’t want it to feel as if it were an accident. I want it to be a very deliberate expression.

James: Do you ever regret  being so careful in life? Maybe obsessing over the perfect chord?

Norm: Not when it comes to art but maybe in life. I think that can sometimes hold you back in life. I think when it comes to life I’m in a different place than I was back then. I feel that now I can experience things and take risks. I think that’s a by-product of being a Hardcore kid. Especially being a Hardcore kid in the 80’s. Being a Hardcore kid meant over thinking everything to death. I don’t regret it. I think it was a decent way for me to live as a young man. I feel that now I can make educated risks.

James: Your interviews spoke to me on a different level than most. When I was doing Unite I was asking a lot of formula questions. Reading Anti-Matter made me want to get closer to the subjects I was interviewing. You were doing what I always wanted to do.

Norm: I had my own inspirations. The fanzines that I looked to were No Answers and Suburban Voice. Suburban Voice influenced me in more subtle ways. Al Quint used to give out his phone number in his fanzine. I called him up one day when I was seventeen and just started talking to him about…stuff. When I started Anti-Matter I called him up and talked about other…stuff. He always took the time out to talk to me. I loved the fact that it came out regularly. I could count on Suburban Voice. It was a subtle influence but I loved the magazine. No Answers was more personal. It helped me take the interview to a place where I was more comfortable. No Answers influenced me on that personal level. He started something and I think I tried to take it to a different place that was closer to my personality. No Answers put conversations in print that I felt were conversations I’d like to have in general. I felt that if I hadn’t recorded those conversations and put them in my fanzine.
I would have had those conversations with those people anyway. That was really my objective.

James: Do you feel that  being in bands and touring with a lot of you subjects help you to gain more access and intimacy with them?

Norm: It created a common ground. I think being in bands put me in a position where I could be more empathetic to their situations. I felt that I could talk to them in a way that musicians talk to each other. I do feel that there is often a divide between musicians and journalists. As a journalist writing for magazines where the people I was interviewing had no idea who
I was, who I played with or where I came from. As far as they were concerned I was just a hack with a computer. I was definitely treated in a different way. I’m thinking of one situation where it was uncovered that I was a musician that they were aware of. All of the sudden or interview took a different route. I was being treated like shit by this band that considered themselves artists above all artists. I ended up walking out on the interview. I didn’t do it. They were just really pretentious.

James: You’re leaving me guessing here. You’re not even going to tell me are you?

Norm: (Laughs) It was Tool. I agreed to do the interview because I appreciated their context. I Norm: appreciated that they were doing something that was somehow operating on a mainstream level while being in complete opposition to the mainstream. That was interesting to me and that was the story I wanted to talk about. It just turned very ugly and I walked out. What I’ve learned is you don’t have to be a nice guy to be a great musician but it helps.
It helps when you feel the music is coming from a very sincere place. In the end it’s not what I’m looking for as a listener. As a human being I think it’s important to respect everybody. If you’re a band like Tool maybe you just shouldn’t do press at all.

James: Did you ever regret not finishing High School?

Norm: I actually ended up getting my GED. in a sense to throw a bone to my parents.
I quit school when I turned sixteen. It was something I realized I could do legally. 
So it was always sort of a count off. My reasons for dropping out weren’t so much scholastic as they were social. I grew up in Woodside, Queens. When I was in
Junior High School my parents abruptly decided to move to Long Island. I had some serious problems with that. I don’t really know what Massapequa is like in 2007 but I know what it was like in 1989. It was so white that on several occasions I had people asking me if I was black. Because they had never seen a person of color before. It was hard and
I hated it. I didn’t really connect well with people there.
Looking back in retrospect it was essentially good for me because it gave me more of a sense of isolation and perhaps pushed me further into Punk Rock. (More so than I would have had in Queens.) Most of my friends in Woodside were Hip Hop kids. While I still love Hip Hop and the culture Punk rock spoke to me on more levels when it came to the issues
I was facing. Dropping out of school was part of a series of events I needed at the time to establish my independence from my family. I knew that if I dropped out of High School that they would ask me to leave the house.

James: You were really happy to go?

My experience with Shelter gave me enough money to put out the first issue of Anti-Matter. I got to do Texas is the Reason because of Anti-Matter.”

Norm: Yes!!!

James: The first thing I thought of when you mentioned Woodside was  Z.O.W.
(Zombies of Woodside was a crew that predated DMS)

Norm: It’s weird but I don’t believe in fate or anything mystical. I do believe that all coincidences are just random. I do feel that my connection to Punk Rock is so deep rooted because of different things that existed in my life. My fourth grade teacher who’s name was Lisa Koncz. Ms. Koncz was my favorite teacher in the whole world. I just remember being completely in love with her. I never had more respect for anybody but her. She was so interested in the fact that I loved music so much. I had an older brother who turned me onto some stuff. He was really into Heavy Metal. I was kind of somewhere between Judas Priest and Krush Groove. She had asked me if I ever wanted to play an instrument. I told her I wanted to play drums. She told me her bother played drums and maybe they could teach you. She gave me a tape of her brothers’ band. I heard it and I remember not really liking it. About two or three years later when I started to get into Punk Rock I was reading about
New York Hardcore bands and somewhere it mentioned Kraut in the article. I thought, 
“That was Lisa Koncz’ brothers’ band.” Sure enough I did my research and found out the drummers name was Johnny Feedback and his real last name was Khans’. “Oh shit, I could have learned to play drums from Johnny Feedback.” I met Z.O.W. around that same time.
I used to hang out at this park across the street from my house. They hung out in a part of the park that everyone knew as “the back of the park”. At the time there were three neighborhood gangs that we all knew. There was the 52nd St. Crew that was predominantly a Black and Hispanic crew. Then there was Z.O.W. which was predominantly White. There was this one guy Charley who was really cool and kind of took me on as a little brother.
I had really good memories of this gang. Then later on as I got into Hardcore I saw that everybody knew who they were.

James: I could say the same thing for DMS. I never thought of them as a gang at the time. They were just friends that I hung out with. (People who looked out for me) I had gotten jumped on the train. One of my friends found out where the guy lived and was going to fire bomb his house.

Norm: It’s really part of the culture of living in certain cities.

James: There’s a stigma attached to not having that piece of paper.

Norm: I’ve never been in a situation where I needed to show my diploma. I was always asked, “What have you done for the last couple of years?” It all came down to just surviving. What was I going to do to pay my rent and keep me from sleeping on people’s floors and couches? I knew Mark Ryan (Supertouch) and Chaka (Burn) who worked at Prana.
(a vegetarian grocery store on the Lower East Side) They gave me a job with no experience. In a lot of ways they were like guardian angels to me. I was also lucky. One of my friends, (Rob Fish) and I lived with him at his Father’s house out in New Jersey.
Later Rob asked me to play in his band. After playing with Ressurection I was asked to play in 108. I got asked to play in Shelter because of my experience playing in 108.
My experience with Shelter gave me enough money to put out the first issue of
Anti-Matter. I got to do
Texas is the Reason because of Anti-Matter. It was just a case of wherever my needs took me I followed.
I do think that a lot of it was just luck for me. Being in the right place at the right time. That said, I worked really hard on everything I’ve done. Especially the stuff that I did in the Hardcore scene. I really did work my ass off. If you look back making a living doing a fanzine seems crazy. I don’t think I realized just how crazy it was at the time. I was working twelve hours a day in my bedroom. In the end it didn’t feel harder than having a day job.

James: How did you become interested in Krishna?

Norm: A lot of times before and after the matinees at CBGB’s we would hang out at Tompkins Square Park. At that time a lot of Krishna’s were out in the park giving out free food to homeless people and punks. That was the first time I came face to face with a
Hare Krishna. “Free food, You can’t beat that.” There was also the Cro-mags and later on Ray Cappo. There was an article in Maximum Rock n Roll in 89 with Ray Cappo. I was obsessed with the article that followed. I must have read it a thousand times. It was about how this family member had their boyfriend or girlfriend deprogrammed. How Krishna was a dangerous cult. How they were brainwashing people. The article just dug up every possible argument against this cult. At the time I thought that it was very unfair and biased. I’d like to decide for myself. I went to a Hare Krishna temple for the first time in 1989. I remember buying a book and it didn’t really leave that much of an impression on me. In May 1990 my best friend died in a car accident. I was seventeen when that happened and I was devastated. This was a person that meant everything to me. (A person who knew me best in the world.) Feeling that sense of mortality at such a young age I wanted answers. I started going back and started reading. I was reading about Krishna Consciousness, other Theologies and trains of thought about death and God. By the summer of 1990 I had become a devotee. I was finding my way in that culture. I moved into the temple in the summer of 1991 and stayed there for a little over a year and a half.

James: At the time I had read the books and listened to what some of the Krishna’s had to say. I agreed with a lot of the principles and could even practice some of them in my own life. My main issue was the whole idea of completely changing your lifestyle. Moving into a temple and giving up everything in the process. That seemed  downright kooky to me.
I always wondered what would make someone take that extreme of a step?

Norm: It was simple. At the time I had always been an all or nothing kind of a person.
So in a sense my conscience dictated it. On a more rational level I was young. I was eighteen at the time and I felt I really had nothing to lose. I should move into temple and dedicate my time to this and see if this is something I feel comfortable with. Is it something I truly believe in? If it isn’t then I can leave. If it is then I am lucky that I found it so early on in life. I just wanted to take that chance at the time while I had the time. At the time I didn’t think I would become a writer or a musician. I was a kid on the street. If I could live with friends, eat free food and be involved with something I believed in. That’s what I was going to do.

James: Is it something you still practice or apply to your life?

Norm: When I left I really didn’t think my life had changed that much. I always thought I was a decent person. My moral outlook wasn’t anything different as a Krishna. I think now I fall more along the lines of being an agnostic as opposed to being a true theist. I think I’ve always been a “live by the golden rule” kind of person. “Due unto others” I always felt that if I followed the golden rule I’d be okay.

James: Was being gay ever an issue within the Krishna community you lived in?

Norm: No, it wasn’t because devotee’s are supposed to be celibate. So whether you’re gay or straight is sort of a moot point. The only thing it affected was my opportunity to deal with my sexuality in my own head. When I was able to deal with it in my own head I was okay with it.Before my initiation I told my group that I was gay. They were okay. “The same rules apply to everybody.”

James: What is the actual initiation process?

Norm: You take vows to practice the four principles. (No intoxicants, No meat eating,
No gambling and a vow of celibacy) There’s also a certain amount of hours a day spent chanting on beads. You make these vows to a spiritual guru. He then gives you a spiritual name.

James: Mouthpiece and Resurrection are two bands that for one reason or another I always think of in the same breathe. You played for one of them. Can you tell me about your experience with Resurrection and your friendship with Rob Fish?

Norm: You know I’ve always done the same thing with Mouthpiece, Resurrection
and Lifetime. Because at that time those three bands were all on the same record label. They were all pretty popular in the scene. They all shared members of some sort. It was somewhat incestuous. I remember the first Resurrection single had Dan Yemin and Ari Katz on it. Then Ari and Dan started Lifetime. Then Resurrection took Lifetime’s first drummer, which was
Chris Daily. Then Resurrection and Mouthpiece shared guitarist Dan Hornecker. So it was very incestuous. I was living in Edison New Jersey with Rob Fish at the time. Lifetime and Resurrection both practiced in his garage. Mouthpiece was from Trenton but always seemed to be around. We always played shows together. The typical Jersey show at the time was some touring bands Resurrection, Mouthpiece and Lifetime.
It was interesting because all those bands were completely different from one another. Mouthpiece was very much a revivalist Straightedge Hardcore band. Lifetime were very
mid tempo. I used to call them more of a Rock band and they would get so mad at me. Resurrection was really trying to push the boundaries of being a dirty Punk band that were Straightedge.

James: I wasn’t living in New Jersey at the time but I remember going to so many great Hardcore shows there. There was the Pipeline, Hiltz’s House, Middlesex College and City Gardens.

Norm: In the early nineties New Jersey was New York Hardcore. Especially after CBGB’s closed its doors to Hardcore shows due to all the violence. What was happening in
New Jersey in the nineties is as close to what was happening with New York Hardcore in the eighties as I can tell. It was just a bunch of friends hanging out and having fun. When I was asked to play in Resurrection I was really psyched. I got to play guitar in a band I liked. People I liked. I had never gotten to play in a band like Resurrection musically before…Never. I remember when we went on tour I don’t think we ever tuned our instruments ever.
I just remember Chris and I would tune our guitars as low as they could go and still make a sound. There was just enough tension to make chords. I remember touring for two months and never changing my guitar strings. I appreciated that our sound appeals to the older sound of Punk. The other great thing is I was playing with someone who had become my best friend. Rob and I lived together for two months at his Dad’s home and then we went on tour. When we had gotten back his Father had sold the house and I didn’t have a place to live anymore. Rob’s dad was the coolest. He loved having everyone over. I remember coming off that tour and being dropped off on someone’s lawn because I had no place to go.
I was homeless again and I begged my friend’s mother to let me stay with her.
She didn’t want me there but in the end she relented.

James: I loved Youth of Today but when it came to Shelter I was turned off.
Maybe it seemed insincere in a sense. He seemed to love the sound of his own voice.

Norm: Not then he wasn’t. When I joined Shelter I raised a few eyebrows among the people I was hanging out with at the time. Shelter was a pretty big hardcore band at the time. In comparison to today’s standards it’s not as big. Back then we all thought they were rock stars with mansions. I had lived in the same temple for a few months as a monk. I got to know Ray very well. I spent a lot of time with Porcell. I trusted them. There was a feeling that I hadn’t seen since the 80’s. It was as if they were on a mission from God. In the eighties there were bands like Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits and Bold who at times seemed like they were on this mission from God.
Shelter, in a sense, was on a mission from God. I felt that at the time they were totally sincere.
Being in Shelter for me was a no brainer. I was with people I really liked. I wasn’t exactly playing the kind of music I wanted to play but I was getting closer.
I also got to travel the world, which was something I had never gotten to do before.

James: Fountainhead…Why did you leave the band?

Norm: I was living in Jersey at the time and I just couldn’t make the trip to practice. It wasn’t anything dramatic. I really liked being in the band. It was my first stab at writing songs. Looking back it’s hard to listen to the record because…it’s not that good. I think it’s pretty cool that I helped to write some of those songs and I played a role.

James: Playing music vs. writing and journalism. How do you balance the two?

Norm: It’s not really about balance. I get really bored of things. My problem is I will do something for a while. I’ll really focus on it. But eventually I’ll get bored. The good thing is when I get bored with one thing I can focus more on the other. I can go back and fourth.

James: What’s happening with the Thursday Documentary? Is the band breaking up?

Norm: I was basically brought in to help them to create a narrative.
(Something closer to a documentary than one of those typical DVD’s that show interviews and live footage.) We wanted to tell a story. I’ve known Steve forever. I know him because he wrote me a letter when I was doing Anti-Matter. Later we traded mix tapes. (Remember those days?)I didn’t even realize he was in Thursday until a few days before that truck hit me. I was in San Francisco with Steve Reddy (Equal Vision Records) at a Coheed and Cambria show when Steve approached me backstage. He was like “Do you remember me?” I said, “I do but your going to have to help me out.”
When he told me who he was I remembered right away. Steve kind of brought me into the fold. I did interviews individually with the band and talked to about twelve people who had something to do with the band. We’re in the editing stage right now. It’s got some great concert footage of a show they did in New Jersey about a year ago. The DVD has tons of footage from the past ten years from basement shows and just hanging out. Great stuff they’ve collected over the years. I feel very positive about this project. The band is not breaking up. Their writing stuff for the new record and they’ve got some new songs on the DVD. Their definitely the best songs they’ve ever written.

James: I read on your profile that you're a Cancer. One more thing we share. What's your birthday? (Mine is July 7th)

Norm: I'm on July 13. I'm a fairly typical Cancer in the generic sense, but I never really got all that into horoscopes. A friend of mine introduced me to this thing called the Enneagram about ten years ago, which is this study of personality types that I think the Jesuits had some part in developing. I'm not sure. I've also read that Gurdjieff had something to do with it, too. But yeah, the Enneagram is a nine-pointed star, and each point of that star represents one of nine major personality types. On top of that, each major personality type is further broken down by what they call "wings." It's like having a major and a minor in college. Like I'm considered a 4 with 5 wing — which basically means I'm a moody creative-type who is constantly being derailed by a tendency to analyze everything. I'm usually skeptical about anything that seems to draw a box around me as an individual, but these descriptions were just so right on that I couldn't ignore it. It's just very eerily detailed,
I guess.

James: How does Norman Brannon handle and deal with stress?

Norm: Not very well! No, seriously, I don't know. I don't think about it too much, to be honest. The things I do to relax are more non-active than pro-active. Like some people will go for a jog or do yoga or something. I'll just turn off my phone and go somewhere by myself. I don't do it very often anymore, but I used to love going to movies by myself.
That kind of thing just feels good to me for some reason.

James: If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Norm: Fuck, that's tough. I don't know. Because honestly, I did a lot of internal work after that car accident I was in a few years back. I mean, I was literally in a bed for two months.
I had nothing to do but pick myself apart and identify the things about myself that didn't feel right and make the conscious effort to purge them. I think the biggest thing is that I was harboring a lot of negativity at that time, I was becoming a bit too misanthropic — even for me. But right now, honestly, I'm pretty satisfied. There's always room to be a better person, of course, but there isn't any one thing that I would change. For the first time in my life,
I think I can say that I'm basically happy.

James: Last and I hope not least.....Your all time favorite HXC record.

Norm: I don't think that I have one favorite, so you're gonna have to let me cheat. Because when I feel like listening to hardcore these days, I almost always go to one of three records: Bad Brains' "I Against I,"
Kraut's "An Adjustment To Society,"
and Negative Approach's "Tied Down."
That's it. That's like the holy trinity of punk rock to me.

(Interview James Damion. Images provided by Norman Brannon.)