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An in-depth analysis of the history of Mental, interview with Ambrose Nzams and Dylan Chadwick / Part I.

An in-depth analysis of the history of Mental, interview with Ambrose Nzams and Dylan Chadwick / Part I.
This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5 (2017). Pics by Lockin Out fanzine, Al Quint, Start Today fanzine, Chiller Than Most fanzine.

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CTM: Yo yo yo you know who this is, this is Chiller Than Most zine and we are doing a special interview about Mental right now! Could you please introduce yourself to the readers? How was your first time meeting Mental? Was it love at first sight?

Ambrose: My name is Ambrose Nzams and I live in Washington, DC. I was 13 years old when Get An Oxygen Tank came out but I didn’t hear it in full until a couple years later. At the time, I don’t think I would have really got it and actually, even when I eventually heard it, I didn’t really get it. However, a year after Get An Oxygen Tank came out, I’d started going to shows regularly and Righteous Jams had put out Rage Of Discipline. I loved that record immediately. I remember at the time, a lot of the older guys I knew didn’t care much for it, they would always just say that Mental was better. It was only much later that I realized how quietly polarizing Righteous Jams were because of certain affiliations, etc. I checked out Mental on the suggestion of my elders and thought it was cool, but it didn’t stick with me. A year after that, my friend Gary ordered a momentarily popular record that will remain unnamed from Deathwish, with it they sent him the GAOT CD for free. He got into it and I still couldn’t really get down. It honestly wasn’t until I heard the WERS set for it all to sink in. I never got a chance to see them, so that recording gave me the perspective that was missing, that was what it took.
Dylan: My name is Dylan. I’m an illustrator. I was first introduced to Mental in early 2004. It was definitely love at first sight, because I loved their artwork! I was a big fan of the artist who did the Yo! 7” (and eventually Planet Mental), but also when Get an Oxygen Tank! came out, the artwork was just so busy and cartoony and mind-blowing. I didn’t really know much about Sean Taggart at that point, but immediately felt a kinship because the art was just really unique and felt more in-tune with the kind of stuff I was drawing in my notebooks at school. All their album covers were great honestly.

CTM: I think their most important impact was that they changed people’s thinking about hardcore, Mental made hardcore fun again. They created a whole new generation of hardcore kids. I don’t think I’m the only one, a lot of people got fed up with American Nightmare, The Suicide File, Panic and the likes really fast, the constant moaning and bloody knives, razorblades. The whole attitude surrounding these bands was just not my thing. If someone is into that stuff, no big deal, I just find it boring. A lot of bands at that time had the dramatic black hair and a really miserable vibe. And then, out of nowhere came Lockin’ Out Records, first with the first Mental record. What is your opinion on this topic? How do you evaluate the work of Mental?

Dylan: Yeah, this describes me too. I liked a few of the bands you mentioned, but always felt like they weren’t “mine” almost like they belonged to the preceding generation a little bit. Mental spoke to me in the same way that like skateboard graphics and comics spoke to me. The presentation was fresh and inspired me to make more art. I think that’s probably the best barometer for a band you can give. The other thing I really liked about Mental and the LOC scene, is that people all had to have like a polarizing opinion about them. They were criticized for the way they moshed or for wearing Nikes or whatever, and when you’re a young kid who’s first starting to understand how HC “works” I just couldn’t relate to a lot of that “heat” they were getting, both good and bad.
Ambrose: Tides gotta shift and anything worthwhile is a response to the things going on around it. Think about the 1-25-03 show: Think I Care, Stop And Think, Mental opening up for American Nightmare and The Suicide File; the first official day of Lockin’ Out Records. Joey C. intros Mental then dives; the band goes directly into an unreleased NYC Mayhem/Straight Ahead intro, then covers Invasion as all their friends mosh. I wasn’t there, so I can’t attest to the energy, but I can’t think of a better example of the ushering in of a new guard. When the baton gets snatched from the previous generation by a newer generation, it’s usually just an attempt to rekindle the feelings the younger generation felt when everything was new. This could be a total misreading but I always partially credited Floorpunch for the ethos of Mental (“Tolerate”, “Stick Together”, being NYHC-centric, etc). I always hypothesized that because the guys in Mental came up on Floorpunch, and hardcore had returned to self-seriousness over time, that they were just trying to bring that feeling back (ala FP & late 80’s NYHC). With that said, the most important part is that Mental rekindled but never rehashed; they were modern, more obscure, more fun and distinct.

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CTM: As far as I know their main goal for starting a band was to cover “Back to back” by Underdog. They loved Underdog and Supertouch, no band in the 00’s ripped off NYHC like Mental ripped off NYHC. The Underdog and Supertouch influence wasn’t really prevalent in the scene until Mental crew started pushing it hard and bringing it to everyone’s attention. What musical effect did they really have on hardcore music?

Ambrose: If we’re only talking musical influence, I guess Justice and the lower tier Lockin’ Out bands (Jaguarz, Crunch Time, etc.) would be like direct disciples of Mental’s sound. And the phrase “Lockin’ Out style” became kind of a popular self-described classification in the first couple years of this decade. Also, the amount they knew about and took influence from–NYHC demos, WNYU sets, and live videos (in the AOL era!)–was super impressive and absolutely laid the foundation for what was to a decade later be dubbed “democore”. I might be looking at the generation before me with rose-colored glasses, but to me, Mental’s influence lies mostly in the community they were able to build. It might be giving them too much credit, but it was like they had a network of friends all over (mainly Boston, Texas, Detroit, Wilkes-Barre and Belgium) that they inspired; promoting individuality and never hesitating to big them up.
Dylan: I can’t speak for anyone else but I know that Mental is how I first heard Supertouch. They’re probably the reason I know Underdog too. Checks out for me.

CTM: So many people said so much dumb shit about Mental. They are too jokey, they only focus on merch and being goofy, Mental is not a serious band etc. Why did people think this way?

Dylan: I think that when a band comes around that gets some hype, it’s natural for “detractors” to spring up. It’s that contrarian thing, like for people who can’t form an opinion about something unless it becomes popular, they just decide to criticize the “fanbase.” I think most of the criticisms lobbied at Mental and LOC generally were unfounded in reality, and probably influenced by jealousy! I totally remember this though. Like, imagine being such a miserable fucker that when a cool band like Mental “hits” you have to try and find reasons not to like them, but I guess it will always happen for bands that are ahead of their time.
Ambrose: It really hit me kind of recently that most people only take things (art, people, ideas, etc.) at face value and run with their–usually someone else’s–superficial summation. It’s super disheartening, but also, I can’t tell anyone what to do with their time. And honestly, there’s really nothing worse than looking deep into something (art, people, ideas, etc.) and finding nothing there. Sometimes things are just what they seem and not much more.
I’ve gone to bat for Mental so many times because the popular consensus of them is unfair. To call them “goofy” is to miss the mark. I always guessed most people thought this because Greg is lanky, they prioritized friends and fun, and all of their merch was colorful. It almost hurts worse when the people that simplify Mental are supposed fans, like just because it can be lighthearted doesn’t mean it’s slapstick. There are so many styles of expression in hardcore–and maybe this is controversial–but to me, most of them are valid and worth at least knowing about, so I don’t like the declaration of what HC should or shouldn’t be. Nonetheless, something about Mental feels totally pure in it’s delivery. It’s still juvenile enough to openly care but also not so self-important as to act as if they’re changing the world. (“It’s not about preaching to hear yourself talk…”)

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CTM: “And you know this”. This quote came from the movie “Friday”. The film details roughly 16 hours in the lives of unemployed Craig Jones (Cube) and Smokey (Tucker), who must pay a drug dealer $200 by 10:00 p.m. that night. At the end of the movie, Smokey looks up, lights a joint and saying to the audience, “I was just bullshittin’! And you know this, mannn!” Right, why do you like this 7 inch?

Ambrose: It’s like “Party And Bullshit” or the Filler 7″ or any other perfect introduction. It sets the foundation for every idea they’ll further and then later reflect on. The entire thing is a mission statement and every song is relatable.
Dylan: The cover is fantastic. That stipple work is insane. The “Baked Not Fried” thing in the insert. It’s LOC #1, pre-logo. Luv it.

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CTM: “Chock full of breakdowns…, you will need to get an oxygen tank to remain a functioning human being… All in all, this is a record that will change how bands write songs in the future.” Please share your thoughts on the “Get An Oxygen Tank” record.

Dylan: These aren’t my fav Mental tunes, but only because there’s such a high caliber around everything else. I love everything about the cover. The fact that purple was such a heavily utilized color. This album was a big hit in my friend circle, prob cuz I think they did the CD with B9 (?) and (people will act like they’re too cool to remember this but fuck ‘em) around the time of this release AP Magazine did a piece on “modern hardcore.” Most of the bands they covered were kinda dorky like Casey Jones but I distinctly remember Get an Oxygen Tank and Rage of Discipline getting included in that list of “albums you gotta check out!” But yeah, I remember a lot of people who wouldn’t normally fuck with “that type of hardcore” having opinions on that album.
Ambrose: It’s not my favorite Mental record, but it might be the most “defining”. I feel like Get An Oxygen Tank is the record everyone thinks of when they think about Mental. It’s like Ice Grillz and the second Stop And Think demo for 2000s band-defining moments. Ironically, Get An Oxygen Tank, Ice Grillz, and the second Stop And Think demo were all issued in collections with the second, more prominent release first in the tracklisting.

CTM: This is a stolen question from “It Runs Deep” fanzine. The song “Growing pains” deals with getting older and not fitting in out there in the “real” world or “growing up”… Do you find it hard to relate to people who don’t have anything to do with hardcore? What do you think about the lyrics of “Growing pains”?

Ambrose: I live and breathe: “I honestly hate the average man / his life is shit to me.” It’s kind of wild how no matter how much I have otherwise in common or can have a good conversation with somebody, I always feel like we’re missing an important bond if they aren’t into, or don’t understand, punk or hardcore. That’s not to say that I inherently get along with everyone who does, but there’s something specific that comes with being hardcore, maybe it’s a certain kind of cynicism or maybe it’s just that it’s a culture of it’s own and it’s always easier to speak to someone in your own language.
I feel “Growing Pains” every day. I thought there might be a point where I stopped being bummed when people sold out in some way, but I don’t think I ever will. And although this song features a word that I wouldn’t particularly use–and that might not fly in the modern world–I can’t say I never feel this exact way when it seems like “no one [takes] this shit for real.”
Dylan: Honestly, yeah I do. I was at a dinner party with a few friends, all of whom were people I had met from being involved with HC and at some point someone used the term “normie” to describe someone else. Another person at the table got a little bit upset, mostly because he felt the term “normie” was reductive. I don’t think I agree with him, and started to talk about all the unspoken things you don’t have to explain to someone else when you know they’re “hardcore” or whatever. Maybe this is a bad example, but yeah. I consider myself fairly “uninvolved” in HC in terms of making music and going to shows and stuff, but it’s still the well from which I’ve made all my friends. It’s still how I stay creative. I have been doing a lot of artwork in the world of independent wrestling and it’s amazing how many ex punk/HC people I meet. As soon as I find out someone grew up going to shows or was straight edge, I feel like there’s a higher chance I’ll become friends with them than not. I met one of my best friends Jeff in college. He was wearing an America’s HC shirt. IDK, I just walked up to him and said “cool shirt.” and we just immediately became friends. I don’t know another subculture quite liek that.

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CTM: “Get off your couch, run around your house like an idiot!” WERS set is a fantastic representation of how great they were live. What do you think about their radio set at WERS? Dylan, I know that you drew a really awesome design for your cassette!

Dylan: I love it! Yeah, absolutely man that live set rules. It’s so funny, the intro is hot, they sound tight. I had a homemade copy of this that I made for myself in high school. When I was a senior, I had already been accepted into college, but hadn’t turned 18 yet so I was legally bound to go to school even if it really didn’t matter what grades I made. As a result, I spent a LOT of time making a zine and drawing. That homemade WERS cover was just one of the many projects I fucked around with in study hall. I sometimes wonder if the girl I was dating back then had ANY idea what the hell I was on about making these tapes. I remember playing it for her in my car and her response was “OMG are they just like playing this in a room with their friends?” The concept of “live set” in anything that wasn’t a stadium was more than she could handle!
Ambrose: Not even trying to be super hyperbolic, and I fear how corny I’m being, but it’s honestly beautiful. This recording turned me into a Mental fan. The crew introductions; “keep the spirit of music alive;” all of it feels so right. I could ramble more about this but I remember the first time I heard this; I was hooked, it made me want to do a band. I also can’t lie and say that the introductions didn’t make me super envious of their crew, I wanted to figure out who everyone mentioned was.

CTM: It’s hard to believe it has been 12 years since the criminally underrated Planet Mental record was released. It seems that around this time Mental changed into some more rockish, more Supertouch and Quicksand influenced. To me however, Mental always seemed to evolve and try new things, and this wax was definitely a breath of fresh air. They were playing a completely different style than what was popular in the mid 2000’s, they were a little weird from the typical hardcore formulas. What do you think about this LP, and how important was this album to hardcore?

Ambrose: I don’t know how important this record was for hardcore as a whole, really. I think it was overshadowed by the “Mental Broke Edge?!” Bridge Nine board proto-meme and by people treating it like it was a fall from grace. I’ve written about this before but lyrically, this is the best Mental record. The vulnerability feels real; it was much less coded than it’s influences. Mental wore everything on their sleeve always and that’s what makes them so special.
Dylan: I really like this LP. I know this is a dorky comparison point but I can remember in the months before it came out hanging out with my friends and just talking music, listening to records you know and I remember one of them saying “the next Mental album is going to be a full length LP and it’s going to be called “Planet Mental.” I think he read it on B9 or maybe even Myspace (LOL!) I immediately loved the title of the record and was excited they’d be doing a full length. I remember trying to picture what the record cover would look like. If I can be honest, I don’t really feel like this album made a tremendous impact. I loved it, I remember it getting some acclaim, but I feel like they broke up so soon afterwards that the album got overshadowed by it? I just don’t remember it getting the attention that GAOT did (again this could just have been my experience).

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Interview with Nancy Petriello Barile and Al Barile

This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5 (2017). Photos by Cynthia Connolly, Bruce Rhodes, Phil N Flash, Allison Schnackenberg, Nancy Petriello Barile.

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CTM – First off all, I hear that you are working on a book. Can you give us any details, can you give us a preview?

Nancy – I wrote a book two summers ago called Lessons from a Punk Rock Teacher, which basically told the story of how I use what I learned in punk rock in teaching. I got an agent right away, but he was unable to sell it – people either liked the punk rock story or the teacher story but not both. So I’m in the process of editing.

Preview:

I had read about the Cambodian gang problem in the Revere. I lived only a block from the notorious Shirley Avenue area, where gunfire and violence were commonplace, and I had been warned early on by nearly every friend and neighbor who knew I now lived in the area: “Do not walk down Shirley Ave. Not in the daytime and definitely not in the nighttime. Avoid it at all costs.” In the six years that I lived in Revere, I had never once been on Shirley Avenue even though it was so close to my home.

Now my classroom was filled with Cambodian students, many with homemade tattoos of Khmer lettering that read CAMBODIA or drawings of Angkor Watt and symbols of what I later learned represented the local neighborhood gangs. The Cambodian boys that populated my freshmen class looked much older than freshmen. They sat, unsmiling, in the back of the room in Dickies pants and Ben Davis shirts, buttoned only at the top, covering their tank top t-shirts. They sneered and rolled their eyes, and were certainly not interested in reading Great Expectations or TheOdyssey.

A few days after school started, another teacher poked her head into my room to say hi. “Oooh, you’ve definitely got some of the gang kids in your class,” she told me when she saw me later that day.

“Gang kids?” I asked. “They’re only freshmen.”

“B.R.D.” she explained. “Boston Red Dragons. It’s a Cambodian gang, and I think some of those kids are in it.”

My entire prior knowledge of gangs was culled from West Side Story and the movie Dangerous Minds, which I had seen that summer. I didn’t have a clue about real life gangs. However, since I had lived in the heart of Philadelphia for three years, I certainly was no stranger to violence. I considered myself fairly street smart, and I was sure I could find common ground to reach these alienated and marginalized kids. Maybe, I thought, being in a gang had similarities to punk rock. We had clothes and rituals that identified us. We were fiercely loyal to one another, and we considered ourselves to be tough and fearless. Maybe there were even some beliefs and interests we shared. In any event, I knew I had to reach these kids, and so I was determined to do whatever was necessary.

CTM – When will the book be released?

Nancy – I’ve been kinda lazy with the edits, and I work three jobs, so I’m hopefully going to give this some attention soon, and then seek out another agent and go from there. Sometimes I think maybe I need to write two separate books: a punk/hardcore one and a teaching one.

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Nancy with Allison. She did a fanzine called Savage Pink, and they started the Philly BYO together with Ron Thatcher. Their first gig was at Buff Hall with Minor Threat, SSD, Agnostic Front, FOD.

CTM – Did you get into hardcore punk through metal, or did hardcore come first? Who were the bands that were the gateway for you to discover heavier and faster music?

Nancy – I grew up in the ’70s and my favorite musicians were David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Roxy Music. I also liked bands like Queen, Aerosmith, and Led Zeppelin. By senior year, I worshipped at the feet of Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and Blondie, and become completely obsessed with punk rock. Punk rock took me took me to hardcore. I think that was a natural progression for many of us.

CTM – Did you have the classic punk look at that point in time?

Nancy – I did, actually. I bleached my light blonde hair white blond. I wore a leather jacket with the names of my favorite bands written in white marker on it. I wore jack boots. I liked the tough look of punk rock, and, especially after I moved to Center City Philadelphia, because I felt somewhat protected by it, as well.

CTM – What was the Philadelphia Better Youth Organization? Was hardcore popular in Philly at that time?

Nancy – So the BYO was started by Shawn Stern and his brother Mark, who were in the band Youth Brigade from California. The premise of BYO was to promote punk and alternative youth cultures in a positive light. Their motto was „that every generation has a responsibility to change what they feel is wrong in the world.” Allison Schnackenberg (Savage Pink), Ron Thatcher, and I from Philly thought that was a pretty great idea, and we wanted to start a BYO in Philly. Shawn was my friend, and so I asked him if we could start a Philly chapter, and he gave us his blessing.
Hardcore was huge in Philly. It was a major stop for all the best hardcore bands, and Philly produced some great bands on its own, as well.

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Nancy with Harley Flanagan, 1981.

CTM – As far as I know, you were a fan of early New York hardcore bands like the Mob, Kraut, Reagen Youth. The Kraut “Unemployed” 7 inch is really awesome, I think that very few bands pulled off the perfect mix of UK punk and US hardcore that Kraut did so well. What are your memories about Kraut?

Nancy – I loved Kraut and agree with you that they had a great sound. I listened to their Unemployed 7 inch SO MUCH back in the day. I saw them play quite a few times, and they never disappointed. I probably saw the Mob play the most. I loved the guys in that band – they were so incredibly nice and fun and just so easy-going.

CTM – Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and he became the galvanizing force of hardcore. Music and art changed radically from 1980 to 1986 when he was in his prime. Someone said that “everyone got into punk bands because of him.” At the time of being hardcore/punk teenager how dis you live through this era and what are your memories about the band Reagen Youth?

Nancy – I felt extremely frustrated because at the time, I was uneducated and didn’t understand politics and government the way I wanted to. I culled a lot of my information from the bands that I loved – everyone from the Dead Kennedys to Crass. I went to the Philadelphia Public Library and took out books by Hannah Arendt and read The Meaning of Democracy by Russell, William, and Thomas Brigg.Reagan Youth were a great band, who I had the pleasure of seeing live. Those guys were very cool, and I liked listening to them talk.

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CTM – What about other bands you saw there, were there any bands that you were really into?

Nancy – NYC in the very early days didn’t really have a strong hardcore scene – just the Mob, and maybe Kraut, although at the time, I think I considered them and bands like Reagan Youth more punk. I was good friends with John Watson, and he was the first singer of AF, so, of course, I loved AF when they came on the scene. Jimmy G was in a band called Cavity Creeps, and Jimmy was always a strong front man. I also enjoyed The Young and the Useless.

CTM – Most hardcore punk rehearsal studios, squats, clubs were in the worst areas of NYC, so going to a show alone was a huge commitment and risk. What are your fave memories of the legendary A7 and 171A? What was the main difference between A7 and 171A?

Nancy – Well, New York was a warzone back then, but I had no fear of death. When I think how I used to walk the 63 blocks from Penn Station (a few times by myself) down to A7, 171A, and CBGBs, I can’t believe it. I have a great story about being at 171A and seeing MDC, I think. This NY girl, Lazar and I went around the corner to get an Orange Crush, and when we got back, we saw the cops were arresting everyone in front of the place. We pulled a fast one by making a phone call that got the cops to leave. We were a bit dishonest, but we saved the day, and everyone bought us beers the rest of the night. I liked 171A better than A7 because I think it was a bit bigger, and I saw more shows at 171A than I did at A7. I think I only saw like one show at A7.

After I met Al in Staten Island we lost touch for a couple of weeks. Then I went to see MDC at 171. I called Al and asked him if he was going to that show. He was. We met at St. Mark’s – maybe at Bleeker Bobs or something. That night kinda solidified our relationship, so that’s a fond 171A memory.

CTM – Are there any particular A7 gigs that stuck in your memory? One of my favourite hardcore photos was taken at A7 in 1982. SS Decontrol on the “stage”, and if we look closely in the audience we can find MCA of the Beastie Boys, Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy’s Law, Dr. Know of Bad Brains etc.

Nancy – Sadly, I wasn’t at that show! And my memory regarding those shows is weak – I don’t even remember which bands I saw at A7 and which ones I saw at 171A. The two or three concussions I sustained during my hardcore years have definitely adversely affected my memory.

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CTM – Irving Plaza, NYC 05.15.1982. – Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Double O.
After temporarily breaking up in late 1981, Minor Threat reformed in April of 1982 and began writing what would eventually become the all-time classic Out of Step record. Wanting to test out this new record, they traveled north to perform at Irving Plaza in NYC on May 15th. The stage was crowded with rowdy New York and Boston hardcore punks from the second the music began resulting in total chaos. Harley Flanagan and the Boston Crew are amongst many that can be heard singing along. Ian Mackaye delivers some snide stage banter, we also hear Ian telling Harley Flanagan to quit sitting on the stage. Haha!
What was your favourite Irving Plaza gig and why? I know that later this year Minor Threat played at Irving Plaza again, SS Decontrol was on the bill, too.

Nancy – The Bad Brains are my all-time favorite band, and I was positively obsessed with them. I’d go anywhere in a tri-state area region to see them. Their Irving Plaza show was amazing. But I think my favorite Irving Plaza show was that Minor Threat – SS Decontrol show. There was so much energy in the air; I was madly in love with Al, and I was planning on moving to Boston. Both bands played siege-like sets and the energy in the room was unbelievable.

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CTM – Agnostic Front, SS Decontrol, Minor Threat. How was the legendary Buff Hall show in November, 1982? I read that earlier you were tired and frustrated with of all the schisms between New York and Boston and Philly and DC.

Nancy – Before I left Philly to move to Boston, I needed to do one more show. As I stated, Allison, Ron Thatcher, and I had worked with Shawn Stern from the Better Youth Organization in L.A. to try to create a BYO in Philly. After Shawn gave us his blessing to replicate his BYO model, we began to plan our first show. We were tired and frustrated with of all the schisms between New York and Boston and Philly and D.C., and we hoped to bring everyone together in a hardcore love fest, so we decided our show would feature bands from up and down the East Coast. We asked Crib Death and Flag of Democracy from Philly, Agnostic Front from New York, SS Decontrol from Boston, and Minor Threat from DC to play the show. At the time, I don’t think we realized what a powerhouse line-up we had just built. Ian MacKaye later called it “a gathering of the tribes.”

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Christine Elise McCarthy, Nancy, Ian at the Channel June 12, 1983.

CTM – You organized a show for the Bad Brains at Elks Center in January 82. A few years ago, I was lucky to hear this live set, and this is one of the best live Bad Brains sets I’ve yet to hear. Would you mind sharing some interesting stories/memories about this gig?

Nancy – I actually didn’t organize that show at the Elks Center – Austistic Behavior did. As you get older, your memory can play tricks on you, and I reconnected a few years ago with Craig Surgent from Austistic Behavior, and he pointed out that the ABs did the Bad Brains and I did Black Flag (with WXPN dj and scene leader, Lee Paris). But I can tell you about that Bad Brains show. The guys in Autistic Behavior were always talking about how awesome the Bad Brains were. I believed them to a certain extent, but NOTHING could have prepared me for seeing them at that Elks Center show. I remember being in the back of the hall when they started Big Takeover, and just being pulled to the front of the stage. I never saw/heard anything like it. First of all, they were incredible musicians, and they were fast AND powerful. There was never a better frontman than H.R. when he was ON. Their songs were structured so well, and when I listened to them, I had a positively physical response – like I just wanted to jump out of my skin. I was so blown away! As I said, I become obsessed, and saw them everywhere they played in New York, New Jersey, and PA after that.

CTM – Was there a band you wanted to book to play a show but never got the chance?

Nancy – Well, I booked Black Flag, and I booked (with Allison and Ron) Minor Threat, SSD, and Agnostic Front. I booked a lot of Philly bands. I guess I would have liked to actually have booked the Bad Brains – that’s probably why I revised history in my head haha.

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Nancy and Al

CTM – SS Decontrol was obviously very influenced by what was going on in DC. Minor Threat had a strong influence on the hardcore scene, both stylistically and in establishing a DIY ethic for music distribution and concert promotion. What is your opinion?

Nancy – My personal DIY came long before I had even heard of MT. When I moved to Center City Philadelphia and figured out that I couldn’t see the bands that I loved because they weren’t playing stadiums or they were playing bars I was too young to get into, I knew we had to do something. I started doing shows with Sadistic Exploits, the band I managed in ’80 and ’81. We did two Punk Fests at the Elks Center with local bands, and huge crowds came out for them. I think that was the case with many scenes across the country. We all realized that if we wanted to see the bands that we liked, we were going to have to do the shows ourselves. I would not attribute the DIY ethic to any single place or band.

CTM – SSD got started by Al Barile in the summer of 1981, they first gigged September 19, 1981 at the Gallery East. This club was one of the first venues to host hardcore punk rock shows for an all-ages audience. Al, at that time when SS Decontrol started playing at the Gallery East, did you see any hope for the straight edge hardcore scene?

Al – The point was what I saw in Boston was a music scene that wasn’t geared towards the music that I thought kids liked, and it was very frustrating for me to see a music scene that had zero connection with the kids. So I had to try.

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CTM – Al, you said in an interview that the Boston punk scene was a congregation of drugged-out losers. That was the direct opposite of their values and what they were trying to do. What were the reactions after “The Choice” leaflet?

Al – I don’t even know how many people saw that, but I didn’t sense any change. And the truth is that even during the whole thing, there wasn’t a huge focus on straightedge. I felt there were a lot of bands that kind of stayed away from the subject.

CTM- Jon Anastas said that Boston has always had flinty, old-school work ethic. It’s in their blood and they ran with it because whatever the Boston crew did, they were all in. Professionalism and precision. What do you think about this?

Al – I don’t know that I think Boston has a stronger work ethic than anywhere else. We always tried to put on the best show we could.

CTM – I often hear criticisms or perceptions that DYS always seemed a few months behind SS Decontrol. What is your opinion about this topic?

Al – I never looked at it that way. I think they were on pace with their own development. We were two separate bands, and there really wasn’t much discussion about each other’s development.

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CTM – What was the story behind the song called “How Much Art”? Al once said in an interview that it was a joke song, it’s not to be taken seriously.

Al – It’s not a „joke song” – it was about the music scene in Boston. It’s not about a canvas on a wall. It’s about the direction of the music scene.

CTM – Homemade “The Straight Edge” jacket, DIY t-shirts, DIY SSD pins, concrete block holding the bass drum, classic Boston crew “Sleeve cap”… Every object of this era helps us to understand the special habits and traditions of the early Boston hardcore. What were your fave objects?

Nancy – For me, Al gave me his Straight Edge jacket fairly early on in our relationship. It was the first present he gave me, and I treasured it – which is why I still have it after all these years haha.

Al – I was never into trinkets. I guess I liked guitar picks.

CTM – Many years ago I got a cassette with a SS Decontrol radio interview. I know that this radio interview was recorded when the band had only been together for two months. Boston was a college radio hotbed, in the early 80s WERS and WMWM supported hardcore. Where was the interview made? What are your memories?

Al – We did two radio interviews early on WERS and WMBR, and I think WMBR was first and WERS was second. Katie the Kleening Lady set the WERS one up.

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CTM – Boston’s legendary hardcore punk label, X-Claim! Records label was owned and ran by Al. The design of the X-Claim! releases could summarize the aesthetic of that era in hardcore. Bridget Burpee was involved in the artwork of five out of the six X-Claim’s seminal outputs, she did the graphic art of the whole SS Decontrol “The Kids Will Have Their Say” LP, DYS “Brotherhood” LP, F.U.’s ?”My America” Lp etc. Please tell me something about her, I was always curious who she was. Was she a professional graphic designer? What do you think about her style?

Nancy – Bridget Burpee Collins is one of the most badass women I know. And yes, she was and is a total professional. She is an extremely talented artist, who has worked in so many fields from graphic design, to culinary arts, to real estate. She succeeds in all that she does. I LOVE her style, and I know that she captured the exactly what Al wanted. If you look at Al’s early flyers, he had a very distinct style, and he was responsible for the X with the letters in it, which several scenes and bands have used (NYHC). Bridget and I are still friends today. She’s married to Richie Collins from Negative FX.We all just had dinner (Angie and Jaime (SSD), Bridget and Richie, and Al and me.)

CTM – Last year I read a funny “How We Rock” story. After Al Quint (“Suburban Voice” fanzine) published his negative review about the SSD record, he got a call at his apartment from a woman who didn’t identify herself but took issue with the review. Was this you? What’s the full story?

Nancy – Haha! I never heard that story, and no, it was definitely not me. That is completely not my style. I actually emailed Al Quint after I read this question to ask him if this was a true story because I didn’t believe it when I read it. He said he believes heDID get the call, and he always thought it was me. I can assure you that if I ever called anyone up to bitch about something, I’d identify myself. Neither Al nor I cared much about reviews, though – everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. I did, however, call some record stores when they were selling bootleg SSD records and threatened them with legal action, and that got pretty nasty. I was a paralegal at a law firm at the time, and the lawyers at my firm were willing to back me, so I was pretty crazy on those phone calls.

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CTM – Thanks for your time Nancy, I really appreciate your support. Last words? How do you feel about SS Decontrol’s legacy today?

Al – I’m proud to do whatever we did, wish I could have done more. Wish more people had a chance to see us. I’m happy and proud that the band was able to write some memorable riffs or songs because that’s essentially what it’s all about.

Nancy – Like many women who were integral to the early hardcore scene, I frequently lament that our voices are not often heard in the retelling of the history. That is something I never cared about until recently – like the educator, documentarian, and feminist in me now wants the history told correctly. I remember when the guys who did American Hardcore came to Al’s house to interview us. I was excited because I thought they were going to interview me about my work as a manager and promoter in both Philly and Boston, but basically, I was just seen as Al’s wife. But later Steven Blush did interview me for the 2nd edition of American Hardcore, so I was happy about that. Women may have been outnumbered in the hardcore scene, but many of us played important roles on stage and behind the scenes, and I’m always happy to have the opportunity to set the record straight.

An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler / Part II.

An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler (Stigmatism, Omegas, Justice, United Stance). This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 6 (2018). Pics by Randall Underwood, BJ Papas, Chris Gorman.

Part I.: https://doyouknowhardcore.com/2019/01/03/an-in-depth-analysis-of-the-history-of-agnostic-front-interview-with-spoiler-part-i/

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CTM – In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published a review of “Victim In Pain”. MRR started talking shit about them and calling them a bunch of fascist skinheads. “Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT.” Has the writer of the review deliberately misinterpreting their message?
Spoiler – The Punks in San Francisco were dealing with legitimate Nazis infiltrating their scene. It was a huge problem, and I understand that they were freaked out to hear about this Skinhead band from New York wearing American flags and being against communism. Unfortunately, instead of speaking to the band to see what they were about, they believed the rumours from the so-called scene reports sent in by people who had personal issues with the band. Agnostic Front reached out to MRR to clear their name and no one listened. Tim Yohannon interviewed the band, but they were defensive, and it seemed to bruise his ego that they were unapologetic and unwilling to bow down to him as the leader of the Punks. Instead of having a real conversation with the band and trying to understand their viewpoints, their experiences in a world that was nothing like his, Yohannon added his own commentary after the fact and sent it off to print like a coward. He had the monopoly on the Punk scene and continued to call the band Nazis, no matter what they did. Roger was Latino, wrote lyrics against fascism, had a child with a Jewish Punk who sang in the most left wing band in New York, but Yohannon didn’t care. He made up his mind and didn’t want tolisten. I think that’s ultimately what made Agnostic Front react so strongly against MRR and their scene.

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CTM – In 2014, Radio Raheem Records did an awesome job with “No One Rules” LP. The LP includes 34 tracks across two different recording sessions, the first predating the United Blood 7″ and the second recorded just before the “Victim In Pain” LP. The “Don Fury 1983” lineup was Raybeez, Adam Mucci, Roger Miret, Vinnie Stigma, and the “Don Fury 1984” lineup was Dave Jones, Rob Kabula, Roger Miret, Vinnie Stigma. We can hear essential and basic differences between these sessions. Which session do you prefer?
Spoiler – I was already very familiar with these recordings as the Raw Unleashed CD which a friend taped for me back in 1998, way before I ever heard the Victim In Pain album. At that time I couldn’t tell the difference, we just listened to the whole thing on repeat on our way to shows. Listening to it now, it’s hard to choose. The raw insanity of the earlier line-up is of course fantastic, but hearing the Victim In Pain songs on a recording that sounds more like United Blood is also a real treat. This session has the added bonus of hearing the VIP line-up playing the United Blood material, so I think I’m going with the 1984 session. Sorry Mucci!

CTM – (“When Slayer came to New York City in December of ’86, touring in support of Reign In Blood, they selected Agnostic Front to open for them at The Ritz. If you were in attendance that night, you heard “Hiding Inside” and “Victim In Pain” then “Angel of Death” and “Chemical Warfare” on the same night from bands who shared the same stage.” Joe Songco – NYC Hardcore, Thrash, and Hip Hop)
In 1986 AF started to incorporate more metal into their sound, and people didn’t know what was going on. The “Cause For Alarm” record was chock full of double bass and guitar solos, Carnivore really helped them out a lot with the recording as well as a rehearsal space. Was it a natural progression for the band? What do you think about the 2nd album musically?
Spoiler – I don’t think it was really a natural progression for the band, but it was a natural progression within the Hardcore scene. Metalheads were coming to Hardcore shows, Metal bands were heavily influenced by Hardcore bands, and of course soon it worked both ways. In the case of AF, Vinnie and Roger had run out of ideas for songwriting and they let the newer members of the band write the music with the help of Peter Steele. I don’t think they would have written a crossover album themselves, but it’s a solid album and a huge influence on both Hardcore and Metal. I think Roger and Vinnie kind of hate it, but it’s got some classic tracks.

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CTM – “The Eliminator” is probably my favourite track on the whole album, which is a simply rip-off of Exodus’ “A Lesson in Violence” haha! What are your feelings about this song?
Spoiler – My personal favourite track from that album has always been Toxic Shock, which is a Celtic Frost ripoff, but The Eliminator is an amazing track and I love the title’s homage to Vinnie’s first Punk band, The Eliminators. It’s definitely a hard ripoff, but they did improve the song so they at least put some work into it. Listening to this song now always reminds me of the time Hoagie from Omegas was having a party at his old apartment where he got so drunk he decided that The Eliminator was the best song of all time and wrote the lyrics on his bathroom wall in a huge marker. Normally people do graffiti in public bathrooms, but not Hoagie! I was impressed he knew the lyrics perfectly without listening to the song.

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CTM – When asked Steve Martin about “Liberty & Justice For…” in 1988, he said: “we are getting back to the roots, and if you can hear some metal influences on “Liberty & Justice For…”, that’s great, but it is basically a back-to-roots hardcore record.” What do you think about this LP? Is it much more like the first album in terms of music and vocals?
Spoiler – I overlooked this record for a long time. I saw it as a lesser version of Cause For Alarm and just generally considered it the weaker album in between CFA and One Voice, which I love. In recent years I’ve come to realize there’s some great music on L&JF. The title track, Strength and Anthem are amazing, classic AF songs. I don’t really agree with Steve Martin though, there is a good amount of metal on that record. It’s less metal than Cause For Alarm, but it’s still a lot closer in sound to CFA than it is to Victim In Pain. Lyrically speaking, it’s even further away from Victim In Pain. The chorus lyrics to Anthem are by far their most questionable, and I was disappointed that Roger didn’t address this in his biography because he did discussother lyrics and stories that fans had questions about. Obviously he was no Nazi, nor was anyone else in the band, but I have a hard time believing it was a coincidence they practically name-checked a well-known Nazi organization in the song. I don’t know why they did it and I hate that they did. Maybe they went too far lashing back against MRR politics, maybe they aligned with the anti-communist leanings of B&H and looked the other way about the rest. Who knows, but I have hard time with the song. The music is good, but I’ll just listen to Victim In Pain instead.

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CTM – “Live at CBGB” recorded during a jam-packed August 21, 1988 Sunday matinee. What are the coolest moments for you on “Live at CBGB” LP?
Spoiler – Of course the classic introduction by Roger is my favourite. It’s just so perfect. I’ve been quoting that for half my life.

CTM – AF was a devastating live band. Roger Miret has always said Agnostic Front has never been a studio band, they have always been a live band. What’s your opinion about this? Do you agree with this statement?
Spoiler – I never got to see them in their glory days, so I can’t really answer that question but I believe it. Seeing them in the eighties must have been absolutely insane. I first saw them in 1997 and I’ll never forget the experience, but for someone like me the records will always mean more. I grew up on them.

CTM – Agnostic Front went through a lot of singers. (John Watson, Keith Burkhardt, James Kontra (and Carl Griffin))Which would you have rather seen: the Agnostic Front show with John Watson, or Agnostic Front gig with Carl The Mosher? Why?
Spoiler – Both are absolute legends in their own right, but I’d have to pick John Watson. He was the original, and seeing that first line-up of the band would blow my mind, no matter how bad they were at the time. That’s the stuff I live for. I have a special place in my heart for Carl The Mosher, and seeing him front the band would be completely insane as well, but Watson does not get enough credit as a NYHC pioneer. He had already been part of the Max’s Kansas City scene before Hardcore existed, he was there from day one and was part of the original Skinhead crew in New York. He’s the one who created moshing as we know it, and also one of the first to move on from the Skinhead scene when it became more right-wing and rebelled by growing his hair, charging it up and dressing in the Discharge style, which was later followed by AF members like Adam Mucci and Roger, along with many in the Peace Punk scene. After his stint in Riker’s Island, Watson came back to the scene and continued to support the new bands for years after. He was one of the purest originators of everything good about NYHC.

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CTM – I read Roger Miret’s book a few months ago, and I couldn’t put it down. I am sure you read his book, what effect did the book have on you?
Spoiler – I anticipated Roger’s book more than any other Punk or Hardcore book because Roger was always a mystery to me. Everyone knows what Vinnie Stigma is like, he wears his heart on his sleeve. Much less was known about Roger’s personal life and off-stage personality, besides a few classic AF stories. I knew stuff about him, little bits and pieces of his life story that I’d read in interviews or was told by old time NYHC guys here and there throughout the years I’ve been a fan, but it was great that he finally told his story. It’s a pretty crazy one. I think I was most surprised by how violent he was throughout the eighties. I assumed he was a bit crazy in his early Skinhead days but mellowed out by the time he started preaching unity and peace, but that wasn’t the case. I always wondered why Dave Jones left the band right after VIP came out, and I was surprised it was because he didn’t want to deal with the violence surrounding the band. But I’m glad that Roger was honest about thatpart of his life, and didn’t try to paint a picture of himself as a harmless guy when he was really a maniac. It takes guts to admit the bad shit you did in the past and I respect him for it. If you read the story, you’ll understand that he grew up surrounded by violence and it was all he knew in his youth.

CTM – The Entire New York Hardcore Scene Vs. New York Magazine on The Phil Donahue Show is one of the greatest videos I have ever seen. The most shocking music video I have ever seen is the Agnostic Front’s performance on The Uncle Floyd Show! Do you know the story of this show where they do playback and lip-sync?
Spoiler – I always loved that video and someone once told me the story of what happened but I can’t remember the details now. I’m pretty sure they had agreed to play, but when Vinnie realized they had to lip-sync instead of playing live he refused to do it. Roger pretended to play instead, I’m not sure if he thought it was funny or maybe he still wanted to get paid for the gig, but it’s a classic and it wouldn’t be half as funny if Vinnie agreed to play!

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CTM – What do you think about the early AF flyers, United Blood/VIP era drawings, like the Blitz tee skinhead, skinhead figure with NYHC flag, skinhead covering one eye with his hand etc.?How have these artworks and flyers influenced your style and process?
Spoiler – Of course, these drawings have all been a huge influence on my art and everything that goes on in my brain. The crazier and busier stuff like the Womp’m flyers and Chuy flyers were influences on my early drawings, but more recently I did some nice art for my book poster and the Playboy Celebration album and realized the drawing style looks a lot like the classic design of the skinhead covering his eye, which I had no intention of referencing. This stuff is just fried into my brain forever, and I like it that way!

CTM – As far as I know, when you first started out, you were heavily into Sean Taggart. What are your favourite parts of the “Cause For Alarm” artwork? What are your favorite details/little things on it?
Spoiler – Sean Taggart and Kevin Crowley were definitely my biggest inspirations, and the CFA cover is number one. I don’t need to tell you that the Demon-Skin (Taggart calls him Horny) and the Punker’s teeth are the biggest influence of them all, but smaller details I always loved were the Shok band pin, the big gun the other Skinhead is holding, and those weird screaming Easter Island statues in the background, I still don’t really know what the hell they are!

CTM – Thanks for the interview and thanks for your time! Last question: if you had to pick one Agnostic Front song to play someone who has never heard them before, what would it be and why did you choose this song?
Spoiler – You’re welcome, I can talk about Agnostic Front for days and thank you for your dedication to Hardcore, fanzines and Vinnie Stigma! Your question is too hard on my brain… my first thought was Victim In Pain. If you hear Victim In Pain and you don’t like it you can go to hell. But if you’ve never heard AF, maybe you should start with Discriminate Me? But then what about Blind Justice, or Your Mistake? Hell, maybe I would play them Power! Fuck it! If you can’t handle Agnostic Front at Power you don’t deserve them at Victim In Pain!!!

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An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler / Part I.

An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler (Stigmatism, Omegas, Justice, United Stance). This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 6 (2018). Pics by Crucial Times fanzine, Randall Underwood, Amy Keim, Krissy Bedell, Jessica Bard, Harley Flanagan.

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Spoiler (Justice)

PART I.

CTM – Yo Spoiler! Could you please introduce yourself to the readers? And who is the greatest guitar player of all time?
Spoiler – What’s up everybody it’s me, the Spoiler! The greatest guitar player of all time is VINNIE STIGMA!!! If you like Hardcore you might know me as the bassist in Justice, Omegas ormy new band Stigmatism, our E.P. comes out this summer on Beach Impediment, what’s up Big Shub!!!

CTM – What was your introduction to Agnostic Front? Was it love at first sight?
Spoiler – In the early nineties I was the youngest in a family of metalheads growing up in Northern Belgium. My dad and older brother always bought copies of a Dutch metal magazine called Aardschok and they had a Skinhead on staff who reviewed and interviewed Hardcore bands. His name was Onno Cro-Mag. I was into Death Metal, but I had just missed the golden era and now all the bands were putting out their progressive bullshit albums. So I was bored with Metal and starting to learn about Hardcore. It sounded a lot more fun, but I hadn’t actually heard much of it. I had a Sheer Terror tape since I was 12 but thought it was Metal. Then a high school buddy made me a tape with Citizens Arrest and Slapshot and I got more interested in Hardcore. In 1996 I switched schools and at my new school there were a few Skinheads and Punks who I befriended right away. One of the Skinhead girls named Lies sold me her Agnostic Front Last Warning CD for cheap andI loved it right away. At first I was more into the live recordings because they had crossover appeal to me as a metal head, but soon I fell in love with the bonus tracks: the United Blood EP. There was something so raw, so insane about the music. I had heard Punk bands like the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys and Chaos UK who I liked, but thought were silly. To a metal head, Punk music sounded like a contest to be the most obnoxious. The United Blood EP was different. It sounded like Punk, but there was nothing silly about it. It was intense, it was tough, it was a real mess. I fell in love with it and I still love it to death.

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CTM – Agnostic Front took the sound of the streets to the masses. Abandoned tenements, drug raids and overdoses, the homeless on the Bowery, social change without social media, decadence and general full-scale mayhem. The early Agnostic Front records really capture the vibe of New York and all its boroughs in the ’80s. What do you think made the band so unique in that timeframe?
Spoiler – It’s like Vinnie says in the Flipside interview: Agnostic Front are from the ghetto. Those guys came from poor families and hard lives. It shows in the music, not only because they were expressing their reality, but also in the more literal way – these guys didn’t have money for good equipment, practice time at nice studios or music lessons. A lot of people from the early NYHC scene came from more artistic backgrounds. They weren’t rich, but they came from arts communities, parents who played music. There was nothing artistic about Agnostic Front in that sense, but of course that allowed for a really raw and pure expression of their lives.Agnostic Front didn’t want to be artistic. They didn’t event want to be musicians. They were angry street kids who wanted to mosh. That’s the one thing that truly set Agnostic Front apart from their contemporaries: Vinnie Stigma picked his band members exclusively on their capabilities as moshers, with absolutely no regard for for their musicianship. Vinnie was a visionary who could see that moshing, the interaction between band and audience was the biggest difference between Hardcore and Punk. There were already bands playing Hardcore music, there were already mosh parts, but Vinnie was the first to pay attention to the moshers themselves. He realized they were as important to the scene as the bands, and they understood the music better than some of the musicians.

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CTM – They recorded the final version of “United Blood” on June 3 1983, and the EP came out in November 1983. When the band released “United Blood”, they started using the term “hardcore” because they wanted to separate AF from the druggy and artsy punk scene. Content, lyrics and message wise why do you think this record is exponentially important?
Spoiler – The United Blood EP has to be the most powerful music ever recorded by people who couldn’t play their instruments. At that point in time, all Punk and Hardcore bands said they couldn’t play because it was still the era of arena rock, when the standard of playing music was Led Zeppelin or The Eagles. In comparison, of course Hardcore bands couldn’t play. But looking back at it now, a lot of early Hardcore bands like the Adolescents, the Bad Brains or Die Kreuzen for instance were phenomenal musicians. Compared to those bands, Agnostic Front could actually not play. But somehow, they were able to create an incredibly powerful, menacing, insane sound. They were inspired by DC bands like Iron Cross and SOA who also couldn’t play, but those bands seemed to know what their limits were. Agnostic Front did not. They played like they were in a fist fight with their own limitations. Raybeez couldn’t keep a beat to save his life, but instead of sticking to simple beats he tried to overcome himself by playing really chaotic, busydrum beats with a bunch of crazy drum fills all over them. Agnostic Front didn’t want to admit they couldn’t play, not to themselves and not to you. Other early New York Hardcore bands who couldn’t play were goofy kids who sang funny lyrics about how they couldn’t play. Agnostic Front were Skinheads who sang about how they were going to beat you up. Their message was simple: people had been fucking with them their entire lives and they weren’t gonna take it anymore. The intense atmosphere around this record changed NYHC forever. It showed people that you didn’t need to make fun of yourself for not being good at something that you cared about. It showed that you could make a statement even if you had nothing.

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CTM – If we are talking about Agnostic Front, then we must talk about the Psychos too. Before the “United Blood” EP, the Psychos were a better and more popular band than Agnostic Front. “Discriminate Me” and “Fight” originally were the Psychos songs, finally both songs ended up on AF’s classic debut 7 inch. The Psychos are the true representation of what NYHC sounded like back in early 80s, but they are really underrated. What’s the reason for this?
Spoiler – The Psychos could never keep a line-up together. Every time they gained some momentum, someone would quit the band and they would have to start over again with a new member. The core member of the band, Billy Psycho, was an actual psycho and I imagine it wasn’t easy being in a band with him. They were like NYHC bootcamp, you started out playing in the Psychos and then you would start your own band.

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The Psychos at A7 (Roger on bass)

CTM – “The socially relevant message of Agnostic Front: we were all underdogs and it was us against the world.”Agnostic Front against society’s system (“Remind Them”), Agnostic Front against the NYPD (“Blind justice”), Agnostic Front against anyone else (“Your Mistake”). These early AF songs took the us-versus-them mentality, they hate society and they are here to fight. What’s your opinion on this?
Spoiler – Agnostic Front’s message can be summed up in one quote from their hero band, Iron Cross: Unite Against the Enemy. Roger always told his crowd we’re all in this together, and I’ve always, to some extent, believed in the message of unity that Agnostic Front spread throughout their lifespan. I have always interpreted it as an all-inclusive invitation to anyone who genuinely doesn’t feel at home in greater society and wants to create something better for those who feel the same. As I get older, and live through the terrifying political climate of 2018, I can’t help but see mistakes in the way that Agnostic Front applied their idea of unity. Whether you’re talking about the NYHC or the society you live in, you can’t tolerate extreme right wing ideologies. In the eighties, AF allowed that to an extent, because those people said they’re also underdogs, and they deserved to be part of that underdog scene. But these kinds of people don’t have good intentions towards everyone else in thecommunity. They’re there to spread hate. They’re against the unity, or the inclusiveness that’s allowing them to be there in the first place. When it comes to Hardcore, these people’s politics are directly against the people of colour that created the original NYHC scene and music in the first place. So in that sense, I think the us-versus-them mentality can be dangerous if you aren’t careful with who you allow to be on your side. But I understand that the eighties were a confusing time and I’m glad we can learn from their mistakes. It’s important to talk about, but it shouldn’t be the focus. Agnostic Front did so many positive things for Hardcore and Punk and I’ll always be grateful. We still have to unite against the enemy, but remember who’s the enemy.

CTM – Stigma still lives at the same address printed inside the gatefold sleeve of Victim In Pain. A few years ago I visited NYC, I knew that I wouldn’t have much free time so I decided to use in a way that would fit my tastes in the best way possible. My first thing was to go to Little Italy, and ate some meatballs at Cafetal on Mott Street. Vinnie Stigma lives upstairs of this building, but he wasn’t home.
Spoiler – He was probably cooking some meatballs!

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CTM – Stigma was sometimes criticized for not being able to play well. What do you think about the United Blood 7″ and Victim In Pain album musically? Critics deride Vinnie Stigma’s guitar talents, or lack thereof but Stigma is the only guitarist on those classic first two Agnostic Front records.
Spoiler – United Blood and Victim In Pain are easily their best records. People who make fun of a guitarist like Vinnie Stigma are the kind of people who will never write a good song in their entire lives. These are the people who spend all their time worrying about technique, guitar tone, pedals and gear. They can flawlessly imitate every guitarist they worship, but no one will ever know their name. None of that bullshit matters if you can’t write a good song. Vinnie Stigma didn’t need anything to create the sound that changed music forever. It was just him and his visionary mind, sitting at his mother’s kitchen table in Little Italy in 1977, writing Power. The people that make fun of bad guitarplaying will never understand the absolute genius of a song like Power.

CTM – What do you think about the infamous cover of “Victim In Pain”? The cover was taken out of a World War Two book, and lot of people misunderstand that. (The original picture of “Victim In Pain” was a completely different cover, it was a picture of Miret on top of the crowd at CBGB’s.)
Spoiler – I have never understood the controversy. It’s an image of victimization on an album called Victim In Pain. It’s an image showing the horrors of fascism on an album with anti-fascist lyrics written by a person of colour. What is the controversy? In 2018, we could say that the victim in the photo is Jewish, and none of the band members in that line-up are (their former bassplayer Adam Mucci is), so you could say it’s cultural appropriation – but in 1984 no one cared about that, so what was the controversy then? You could say it exploits war imagery, but what classic Punk album doesn’t? Would they say the same about Crass or Crucifix records? I think it was really a matter of people wanting to believe that they were Nazis using a photo of a Nazi, and they didn’t want to listen to what Roger and the band had to say about it. They believed the gossip mill in the pages of MRR, written by a guy who performed in a Hitler moustache!

CTM – “Victim In Pain” has just come out at the time when Roger Miret was asked to join the Cro-Mags and sing for them. (He played bass for the Cro-Mags first show when Eric Casanova was the singer, Paris was on guitar and Harley played drums.) What would have happened if Roger had joined the Cro-Mags?
Spoiler – The Cro-Mags would not have been as good with Roger singing, and Agnostic Front would not have been as good with someone else singing. Everyone made the right choice. The Cro-Mags sound was much more developed, with much more going on rhythmically than AF’s music. Roger’s singing style is straight forward and simplistic, and it would not have matched the Cro-Mags music that well. But it works perfectly for Victim In Pain. Even as frontmen, the Cro-Mags needed John Joseph’s wide range of high energy moves to go with the rhythms. Miret has a more laid back, straight forward style that doesn’t rely as much on moves but on pure charisma, exactly like AF’s music.

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To be continued soon!

 

 

Chiller Than Most #6 (Agnostic Front, Unified Right, Outburst, Freedom, Hypocrite, Big Cheese, Meline Gharibyan, Motor City Madness)

Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 6

Online store : http://chillerthanmost.bigcartel.com.

– An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler (Stigmatism, Omegas, Justice, United Stance etc.)
– Interviews with Unified Right, Outburst, Freedom, Hypocrite, Big Cheese, Meline Gharibyan, Motor City Madness.
Cut’n’paste fanzine, A4 size, 28 pages. Cover art by Chun One.

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Combatant interview (2016) by Chiller Than Most fanzine

Combatant interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 4 (2016). Pics by Angela Owens, Squashed Warehouse, Brandon Pelletier.

CTM – Tell me about Combatant, how did the band came together? Would you mind sharing some background to Combatant?
Tyler – Combatant was just an idea to put some unfinished songs to use from my last band. I wanted to try singing which is something I hadn’t done before, so when I figured out how I wanted Combatant to sound, I contacted Ryan about playing guitar. Ryan then suggested we get Alex to play drums since we knew him through playing shows with his old band and he was going to college near Ryan. Al has known Matt for years and they’ve played in bands together since high school so once the demo came out we got Matt on bass and became a real band.

CTM – Others may have asked you this, but where’d you get the name from? Is there a connection to the record label Combat Records?Is there any particular significance or story behind the name?
Tyler – No connection to that label that I know of. My friend Darryl came up with the name a few years ago for a possible project he wanted to start up that never came to fruition. Fast forward to last year, I had the idea of doing a band but couldn’t settle on a name, and then I remembered ‘Combatant.’ It just sounded cool and old and fortunately hadn’t been used yet. I hit him up and he gave me the O.K. to use it – thanks again man!

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CTM – The band recorded both releases at Side Two Studios in Boston with Ryan Abbott. Seems to me Side Two is as popular as Paincave, how was the working process with Ryan? What would we hear on your releases that is Ryan’s input as a producer? Haha!
Tyler – Ryan is super easy and laid back to record with. We would record a song in just a couple takes and then bullshit with him for almost the same length of time it took to lay the song down. He didn’t offer up too much input – the songs are pretty straight forward and he knows exactly what we’re going for so he just lets us do our thing. A few examples of when he did chime in would be trying to get a more Crucifix vibe out of the middle section on “Survive,” having me re-write a couple lines that didn’t quite fit while recording “Rat Poison,” and trying out a couple ideas on the solo in “Out For War.” He also tried to get me to yell a “BLEH!” at the end of one of the demo songs, ala the end of Madball’s “We Should Care.” Probably did about five or six takes but I couldn’t get the right “BLEH!”

CTM – Any good stories about the recording?
Tyler – The day we recorded the demo, me and Ryan went down a one way street near the studio, saw a drug deal take place and then had to awkwardly do a multiple point turn to get his car turned around to go back the other way while the two guys who had just made the transaction glared at us.

CTM – Tell me about the artwork for your first demo tape. I guess you wanted something that would totally stand out?
Tyler – Ryan and myself first saw the image in a old record insert and knew we had to use it for something. It wasn’t until I heard the recordings from the first Combatant practice that I knew it would perfectly compliment our idiotic riffs. I’m actually surprised more people don’t know where its from.

CTM – You released your first tape in the winter of 2015. It’s been out long enough how were people’s reactoions to it? What was the funniest reaction? What is one review or criticism you are most proud of?
Tyler – I think most people that have heard it like it but I’m still surprised to hear people list it in their “best of” or whatever. Matt showed me an interview awhile ago where we were mentioned alongside bands like Free and G.L.O.S.S. What’s funny about that is those bands more or less have a strong message and raise serious issues and I talk about hating rules while Ryan is re-enacting every Stigma stage move from the In Effect video at practice. To each their own.

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CTM – Most of your lyrics are really critical and angry, these type of hardcore lyrics are not complicated. But when you write socially critical or politically-charged songs, do you try to phrase them so they are easily understood by your listeners? Or do you say what you want to say and trust that your message will get across?
Tyler – There’s a little of both. The lyrics take the longest to write, mainly just trying to streamline what I wanna say in a way thats relatable but so that it still sounds like me. My vocabularly is pretty limited so there isn’t much tweaking I have to do once I write a song – but at the same time, the bands I’m influenced by kept things simple and to the point, which to me is the best way.

CTM – Could you explain the lyrical meaning of a few of your songs on the Psychosis EP, namely “Rat Poison” and “You’re Another Victim”?
Tyler – “You’re Another Victim” is basically about someone trying to please others no matter what, and in doing so, they’ve become trapped and taken advantage of by always bending to the whims of someone else. “Rat Poison” came together really quick – I had no intention of writing any songs along the lines of what you might consider ‘scene commentary,’ but I started thinking of certain instances locally and nationally about mindless violence, a lot of it gang related, at shows. I just have a hard time justifying kids getting beaten almost to death over problems that could’ve been settled one on one, if nothing else. “Survive” is pretty self-explanatory, just a personal empowerment kinda song. “Public Threat” is written from the point of view of someone who basically is the dude on the cover of the ‘Nervous Breakdown’ ep – backed against the wall and about to lash out. The other songs are just the typical can’t-deal-with-bullshit authority figures or people on power trips.

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CTM – Combatant are here and they are out for war. Expect great things from this band in the future. So, what is Combatant’s main goal for this or next year? What can we expect from the band? Is there already a label who wants to do a 7 inch for you?
Tyler – Pissed Off! Records from Malaysia is putting out a tape over there of the demo and Psychosis on one cassette. Its going to have some artwork drawn up by our friend Mike Fagan, and it should be out mid-September. As for new stuff, we’ve got about seven complete songs written towards hopefully a 7″ release. No one has hit us up yet about putting a record out, but we’re planning on recording a demo of the new songs to send out to a couple places and see if there’s any interest. New stuff still has an AF vibe, but a lot more Negative Approach and some UK82 thrown in there. It’s our best stuff yet; maybe a promo of those songs could happen within the coming months, we’ll see. I’m always writing stuff and we make it a point to at least meet up and jam once or twice a month so we’ll keep putting new songs out there regardless of format or who puts it out.

CTM – Agnostic Front against society’s system (“Remind Them”), Agnostic Front against the NYPD (“Blind justice”), Agnostic Front against anyone else (“Your Mistake”). These early AF songs took the us-versus-them mentality, they hate society and they are here to fight. I am wondering how does Combatant would reflect this kind of us-versus-them mentality?
Tyler – Those particular AF songs resonate with me more than the songs about trying to unite people. The stuff I write about comes from a real place and I still feel its “me against them” everyday. If there was a meaning to the name Combatant, then thats where it would fit.

CTM – What do you think about the Victim In Pain album musically? Critics deride Vinnie Stigma’s guitar talents, or lack thereof but Stigma is the only guitarist on those classic first two Agnostic Front records (United Blood EP / Victim In Pain LP).
Tyler – Victim In Pain musically is one of the greatest records of all time, hardcore or not. There’s a certain charm to United Blood but I think with Victim In Pain they really came into their own. You can definitely hear the Negative Approach and Crucifix influence but if Stigma wasn’t there, you would’ve had a totally different album. You can tell he’s not giving a shit about playing anything really on time or even in tune.Going from United Blood to Victim In Pain, yes the drumming made a huge difference but you gotta love how Stigma made sure each song had at least twice as many chords as anything on United Blood. The ’84 Don Fury rehearsal for Victim In Pain is almost as classic as the record – always annoyed me on that when Roger would try and quiet Vinnie down or tell him not to do something or play something a certain way in the next song. We all know who’s band it is.

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CTM – You said in an interview that you just try to write things that you think would cater to a bunch of angel dusted bald freaks stomping around A7. This is one of the best descriptions/statements I have ever read about what the motivation is behind a hardcore band. So let’s say I gave you a hardcore time machine. It’s the early 80’s and you are about to take a road trip to the A7 in East Village. Who are joining you on the ride and who are playing the show? (When you enter to the bar please don’t forget the warning spray-painted on the outside of the A7 building read: “Out of town bands remember where you are.”!)
Tyler – Keeping the “out of town bands” warning in mind, I’m linking up with Al Barile and the rest of the crew on the way through Boston. The bill is The Psychos, The Abused, SS Decontrol, Void and AF.

CTM – What are some early NYHC bands (1980-1984) that you feel are underrated and deserve more attention? Do you like the The Young and the Useless, The High And The Mighty, early Beastie Boys releases?
Tyler – Nihilistics get overlooked, but I know they don’t care. Kraut doesn’t really get mentioned too much, well not to where I feel they’re an ‘overrated’ band of that era.”Unemployed” is one of my favorite riffs ever. The High And The Mighty are cool, but I think we’d all rather see a non-Drew Stone fronted Antidote.

CTM – Which would you have rather seen: the Agnostic Front show with John Watson, or Tommy Rat singing for Warzone show?
Tyler – I love the Tommy Rat demo, but I’m gonna pick Agnostic Front with John Watson. They played a few shows with John so if I had to pick one, it would be the Buff Hall gig in ’82 with Minor Threat.

CTM – I am working on an article about the WNYU’s classic punk/hardcore radio show, “Crucial Chaos” and I did an interview with DJ Spermicide too. I would like to know what are your favourite Crucial Chaos radiosets and why?
Tyler – Favorite WNYU sets would be Krakdown – “Everybody mosh it up…Break everything in your house!” The first Breakdown set is great too. Despite Perlin having a “sore throat, put up with me,” his vocals are so rabid sounding. “Punk rock haircuts, $4 dollars come on down!” Warzone, Nihilistics, Life’s Blood…

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CTM – This will be a tough question. Do you think hardcore has or should have limits sound wise?
Tyler – No I don’t think it should have limits but what’s hardcore to me is gonna be different to someone else. Personally I like hardcore thats pretty stripped down and simple, from the hardcore punk stuff to the more heavy/metallic styles, so I have my own limits for what sounds hardcore to me. Everything from Heart Attack to 100 Demons falls under the hardcore category so what do I know?

CTM – A lot of people criticize hardcore for, in many ways, being a microcosm of the real world. What do you think about this topic?
Tyler – I’d say thats pretty accurate. Just because its a ‘community’ based around music doesn’t mean there’s not going to be greedy and conceited people involved with it. At the same time, I’ve met people throught hardcore who have remained close friends of mine. I really don’t put much thought into it though. I get out of hardcore what I want to get out of it and thats enough for me.

CTM -How much do you love Maine? What makes it that bad ass, special, different?
Tyler – There are some fun outdoors oriented things to do, sure, but I don’t really care about the state at all. The music scene is really hit or miss: one or two good bands every three or four years. I grew up in the sticks and always wanted to get out, but when I got out I just wanted to find a place with a little peace and quiet again. I’ve learned to appreciate it a little bit but I really don’t spend too much time thinking about it.

CTM – Do you know the Hungarian band called Contra? Brain Abuse Records released their demo too.
Tyler – The demo was really good and the new promo is even better.

CTM- Thanks for your time dude. Any closing thoughts, shout outs or words of encouragement?
Tyler – Thanks for the interview, keep an eye out for the Psychosis EP cassette on Brain Abuse and Pissed Off Records. Listen to Motorhead everyday.

Bowery / A hardcore-fanatic’s guide – Part VIII.

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“Drew Carolan is an accomplished photographer and film maker, native New Yorker and Lower East Sider. Between 1983 and 1985, this local photographer began photographing the patrons of the now infamous hardcore matinees that were going on at the seminal underground music club, CBGB. Drew basically just set up his makeshift outdoor/mobile studio by putting up a large, white tarp/cardboard on the south side of Bleecker Street, just steps to the west of Bowery (i.e. essentially across the street from CBGB). The Bowery at that time was a true melting pot of downtrodden adults, underage hardcore punk kids, and people living on the fringes of society. He documented a wide cast of characters, punk kids, bands, and assorted characters on their way to and from hardcore matinees.
Radio Raheem Records released the long overdue publication of the the Matinee Project photos series, pick up your copy of “Matinee: All Ages on the Bowery” book directly from the label. https://deathwishinc.com/collections/radio-raheem

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In 2015, Dublin street artist Solus painted a tribute mural to Joey Ramone on Bleecker Street, it was created to celebrate the the 40th anniversary of the Ramones debuting at CBGB. He painted his mural to the same wall, where Drew Carolan took his matinee photographs. A few months ago, Shepard Fairey street artist created a new mural in honor of Debbie Harry and Blondie.” Chiller Than Most fanzine, 2017

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