Interview with Gene Melkisethian (Give) – Part II.

Gene Melkisethian (Give) interview originally published in Chiller Than Most, issue 3.5. Pics by Farrah Skeiky, Dan Rawe, Lonetriker, Elena Des

CTM – It’s such an inane bit of trivia but I really like working titles of songs. What have been some working titles of songs in the past? why did you give these working titles to these songs? Share some stories!

Gene – Working titles often relate to one element of the riff/rhythm/whatever that evokes something else, or an inside joke. We used to have a number system, but I can’t remember any of the corresponding songs anymore. We just use working titles because John is lazy and we have to force him to write lyrics when we’re in (or about to go into) the studio. Every band I have ever been in is like this, so I think that singers just can’t help it.

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CTM – Did you read the book called “New York Hardcore 1980-1990” by Tony Rettman? I really enjoyed my time with this book.

Gene – I haven’t had a chance to read it, but Tony did a reading from it at my store. The stories about the ‘80s hardcore scene are cool, but I kind of liked it better when everything was a mystery.

CTM – I heard that your dad was around for everything that happened in DC in the early 80’s. He was the go to guy in town for amp repair and all of the big name hardcore bands came to him. Please feel free to share some great stories you heard from him!

Gene – My favorite story that isn’t too long to write is that when he got the Rites of Spring LP from the guys he told them, “Finally, this is some real music,” or something to that effect. Another cool story is that Darryl Jenifer stopped him on the street in Georgetown (fancy DC neighborhood) way back when and handed him a “Pay to Cum” with picture sleeve. It’s not every day that your father gets handed a $3000 record by the greatest band ever, but lucky for me I still have it.

CTM – Your latest release is an awesome live set, Moshers Delight put out your set from Fort Reno this past summer on a cassette. Fort Reno has got a great history and Amanda MacKaye continues to put on shows there every summer. I think it’s an awesome tradition in your town.As the city’s DIY rock scenes blossomed, it became a place for new wavers and then punks—an identity Fort Reno has kept even as D.C. hardcore has given way to D.C. post-hardcore. Give played there a couple of times, please tell me something about the vibe of Fort Reno!

Gene – Fort Reno is great, I think I first when there in ’90 or so to see Fugazi. My parents would bring me along and I got a chance to check out great music in a kid friendly environment. I was there for the “Ice Cream Eating Motherfucker” incident, so how could I not love the place? Fort Reno is many of the things that make DC great: it’s free (tons of free cultural activities here due to all of the museums), it’s outside (DC has tons of parks including a huge one behind my house that we shot the cover for our LP in), lots of good bands have played and money is not the object(another DC thing and I’m proud to be part of it). Also, big thanks to Amanda, she rules.

CTM – If I am not mistaken everyone has their favorite era/line up of Youth Of Today. What was the best Youth Of Today line up?

Gene – BDTW lineup, no question. That shit is untouchable! I first got my hands on a copy of it when I was very young (maybe I was 10?) when my sister borrowed if from some trench coat wearing goth punk at her school. I looked at the cover and the lyrics and knew that this was EXACTLY what I was into. I can’t even believe that P-O-S-E-R Crucial John prefers the sellout record.

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CTM – Which NYHC hardcore band or song writer do you think writes the deepest lyrics, those that you can tell come from the heart?

Gene – I don’t look to NYHC for that kind of vibe, NYHC isn’t really the place for deep introspection. More often I’m thinking to myself “Boy, this music is great, why did they say THAT?!?” Notable exception being Absolution, those lyrics are pretty cool.

CTM – What have been some of your personal highlights or defining moments of the last European tour? What are the weirdest things you’ve ever seen on your European tours? Unusual European foods, weirdest European buildings, traditions etc.

Gene – I have a much more impressionistic way of looking at things, I used to know mundane details and facts about shows, records, etc, now I just follow life wherever it takes me. Getting to see old friends is always a highlight. Getting to see my friend Sarah, who almost died in a terrible accident, was a real blessing. Spending extra time in Berlin and Budapest was also great. We have so many great hosts that it seems unfair to single people out. Nothing in Europe is very foreign to me, I think I’m foreign to most other humans on Earth, I’m good to go wherever I am. No food is gonna really freak me out. If it’s from a plant, how bad could it be? If it’s a dead animal, it’s gross no matter what.

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CTM – I heard that Beady Eye “Different Gear, Still Speeding This” was the soundtrack to the Flowerhead tour. (Beady Eye was bad ass as well although it’s not good as Oasis. I was lucky to see them in Germany in 2013.) What do you listen to when you are on the road? what do you listen to in your tour bus?

Gene – That record is real good. I don’t care about Oasis. We listen to all kinds of stuff, depends on who is driving. If 85 is up front we’re probably listening to Z-Ro or some chopped and screwed shit. I’m more into conversation than listening to even more music (we do that all night).

CTM – Thanks for your time! Last words?

Gene – Thanks for being our friend, thanks for doing a zine, thanks to the Budapest HC scene. Start a band, start a zine, get involved.

A7 / A hardcore-fanatic’s guide – Part II.

Pics by Jessica Bard, The New York Hardcore Chronicles, Phil In Phlash.

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Before A7 was A7, it was a social club for old Polish people. This tiny space opened on the south east corner of Avenue A and East Seventh Street in 1980, it was a heavy Puerto Rican neighborhood and those guys were heavily territorial. The after-hours club became a ground zero between 1981 and 1984 for the burgeoning hardcore scene, when Dave Gibson (owner of A7) started to organize hardcore bands. The club operated without a liquor license and was often raided by police.

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Bands played from 1 am to sunrise for an underaged crowd, and the club was staffed by members of the NYHC scene, on a good night, Raybeez was doorman, Doug Holland bartened, and Jimmy Gestapo deejayed. Sometimes 8 or 10 bands played for 3 bucks, and there was a sheet of paper tacked on the wall with the names of all the bands playing that night. There was a couch in there and the room couldn’t have held more than 30 kids, many just listened on the sidewalk outside next to the building wall. There was already a reggae scene going on at A7 at the time, and jazz bands played there too. The space is now the back room of a bar called Niagra, part-owned by scene veteran Jesse Malin (Heart Attack). As you go into Niagara’s backroom you notice on the wall a plaque that reads: “A7 1980-1984, pioneers of American hardcore and the birthplace of NYHC”.

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– A7 is the place where The Abused played their first gig, and Kevin Crowley (singer of The Abused) used to give haircuts to people in the bathroom.
– A7 is the place where hardcore kids were getting into a lot of fights bruising their hands up too much, so they started to wearing construction gloves to protect their hands.
– A7 is the place where Gilligan’s Revenge (pre-Token Entry) played their first show with Kraut on November 12th, 1982. Johnny Steigerwald was the oldest member in the band, he was 16 at that time.
– A7 is the place where SS Decontrol showed up with ski masks.
– A7 is the place where The Young And The Useless played horrible hardcore covers like “Grease” and “Billy, don’t be a hero”.

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– A7 is the place where the bathroom had no lock on the door so you had to pee expecting some unwanted visitors. If you had to take a dump, you’d better not had been shy.
– A7 is the place where a spray-painted message was written right over the side door, “Out of town bands remember where you are!”.
– A7 is the place where one of the best footage ever created in the history of hardcore. The video starts out with two songs by the Psycho’s, features Roger Miret on bass and Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy’s Law on vocals for the first song. Both songs are Void covers (“Who Are You” and “Time to Die” is the second track). After that, Jimmy Gestapo introduces the band and after a few minutes of tuning up, Agnostic Front do the song “United Blood”. Dave Jones of Mental Abuse on drums, Todd Youth on bass, Stigma on guitar, Roger vocals.

– A7 is the place where Future Confusion (pre-Death Before Dishonor) gave their first show in 1981.
– A7 is the place where Roger Miret played with three different bands (Rat Poison Band(pre-Warzone), The Psychos, Agnostic Front) on the same night in November 12th, 1983.

(Originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5.)

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The High And The Mighty at A7, 1983
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“Tony T-shirt” singer of Ultraviolence moshing at the A7, SS Decontrol on stage.
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The Psychos at A7, 1983.
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Agnostic Front at A7.

Interview with Gene Melkisethian (Give) – Part I.

Gene Melkisethian (Give) interview originally published in Chiller Than Most, issue 3.5. Pics by Susan, Brett Sweeney, Dan Gonyea, Tyler Ross.

CTM – How did you start playing drums, and who were your biggest influences growing up?

Gene – I started playing drums because there was a drum set in my attic and I was a curious little bugger. Influences are kind of hard to pinpoint, as I’m more into music in general than just trying to cop someone’s vibe. I saw Fugazi almost constantly from when I was six or seven years old until they stopped, so I heard a lot of Brendan’s drumming, and he’s a great drummer, so I’m sure that’s in the mix. A cassette I found at a very young age was the Bad Brains Roir cassette, and how can you not dig that? As a teen, Sammy Siegler was in every cool band, so when I was the same age he was a big influence. Besides that I really dig Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Vinny Appice, Bill Ward and like a million others.

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CTM – Who are your favourite hardcore drummers? Who left the biggest impact on your drum style and why?

Gene – Earl Hudson is the correct answer to this question, but I think that Jeff Nelson is waaaaay overlooked. The good NY(area) guys are obvious: Mackie, Sammy, Drew Beat, Will Shepler. Real into the drumming on the best Integ releases, whoever did it??? Besides that, I’m into the razzmatazz of Chris Bratton- he knows how to put on a show. More modern? Justin DeTore is a machine, and Connor Donegan is a young dude that crushes it. Also Brandon Ferrell from a bunch of NC/VA bands was always fun to watch and super on point, Jonah from Fucked Up is also great. Some of these guys I don’t even know one song by the bands they play in, but I always grab an up front spot to watch them play. I might try to cop a good idea they execute, but I’m too hyperactive to actually learn anything from them, I just make shit up that sounds good with whatever song I’m working on. I’d probably be a lot better (and all of these guys slay me) if I cared about fine-tuning my skills.

CTM – You said in an interview that the lyrics celebrate individuality, free will and a pride in self that stems from personal choices rather than thinking in a group. Do you think it’s important for a band of individuals to all have the same beliefs? What do you think about John’s lyrics?

Gene – Having the same beliefs would be boring. We are all on the same page on a lot of things, but I think that comes from growing together as a unit. We all can learn from each other, and there are a bunch of brainiacs in the group, so we’re always arguing about current events or having political debates. I think John’s lyrics are very good. They are the right mix of simple generalities and detailed snapshots of life. They resonate with a wide variety of people, and stand for the good things: positivity, love, acceptance, tolerance, individuality and growth.

CTM – Looking back, how do you feel about the self titled 12 inch? What memories does it bring to you?

Gene – It’s a cool record, the band was in a constant state of flux and had like three false starts before that. We got in some stupid arguments over the intro track, but that honestly makes the record for me. The opening track is the last thing that the previous lineup did together, and then it busts into a song that kind of summarizes the next era of the band. We were finding our style and image, and we didn’t have it all there at the time. I conscripted Ian to move from bass to guitar because he can actually handle being in a band, and that’s something important to consider. It was also cool because Ben is such a good player (in a more typical mode) that Ian’s inexperience would help us to have a more creative vibe (and how many pics of him prancing about would be posted on the internet if he had a bass in his hand…..). So it was fun to do something new and ambitious and more in line with what I’ve always been working towards.

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CTM – Do you feel like you accomplished something with this Electric Flower Circus record that you hadn’t done before on earlier releases?

Gene – It was an insane amount of tracking. We did like twenty songs almost. So that was something that I’d never done before. It was also cool to put it out ourselves. There are definitely things that I wish we had done differently, but that means that I care about it, and the fire is there to do something that’s hopefully “better” in the future.

CTM – What’s been your proudest moment in the band?

Gene – Who knows? It’s all fun. I love playing music, and these guys are great. We can all be giant babies about things, but that’s even fun at this point.

CTM – The Voodoo Leather cassette is probaly one of my most favorites. How would you describe this tape as far as music and lyrics?

Gene – It was all of the weird loose ends that we had hanging at the time. Ian and I are always trying to sell the other guys on our stupid riff-collections that aren’t really songs. I actually think that the music is really cool, but the recording doesn’t fit us. I also think that the lyrics aren’t as thought out as the other releases(with the giant exception of Voodoo Leather). That tape is like a glimpse into our practice space and showcases a side of the band that you might never see otherwise.

CTM – Give plays a style of DC punk mixing influences like Swiz and Rites of Spring with New Order and Soundgarden.Besides this the character/the attitude of what the band represents is totally hardcore. What makes a band a hardcore band in your eyes?

Gene – Who knows? That’s a tough question. On the good side, I see the bands in DC- lots of creative kids, lots of new faces. On the bad side I see bands in other places: conservative politics, sexism, homophobia, gang-mentalities, violence, glorifying the past above all else. Hardcore is our way of approaching things, always giving everything we’ve got when we play, not acting like rock stars- the usual shit, caring about the world and trying to make a difference- not giving in.

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CTM – Lion of Judah were a really unique band, you were a little weird compared to the typical hardcore formulas and Give was creating something completely new too in the hardcore scene. What do you think of the state of hardcore music nowadays and the way a lot of bands have a very similar sound?

Gene – It’s the same as it will always be, lots of people that like the violent imagery and need a place to bully others and they’re too weak to be real criminals. On the flip there are people everywhere that want to be different and don’t fit in where they’re from. They need a place to go where they are respected for whoever they are, and they need people that will stick up for them. There are more people that are good than bad, and more people that want to create than destroy, so there are good things to look forward to. We just try to make music that we like and we hope to inspire others to do the same.

CTM – Do you find it difficult to create your own sound and your own identity?

Gene – Not at all.

CTM – It seems to me you are still enjoying the creative process, you are still full of new ideas. What goals do you still have for the band and what are you hoping the future holds?

Gene – More music, more songs, encouraging more diversity in the scene.