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.

A hardcore-fanatic’s guide – Part I.

Intro – Things to check out in NYC, a hardcore-fanatic’s guide

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A few years ago, one member of Death Before Dishonor asked: “Why are all the people posting about A7 club even most of you never been there before what’s going on here?”. To be honest, I thought a lot about this and I’m afraid the question missed the point. I truly believe that hardcore is still alive and well, but keeping the tradition is really important. Hardcore has a lot of history and I think it is relevant for the kids to know about the bands that came before them and influenced their current scenes. I really enjoyed the NYHC Chronicles documentary, it was fun to read the “New York Hardcore 1980-1990” book and “My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grit, Guts & Glory” book, despite I was never part of the early hardcore scene. I want to believe that these guys are happy that the new generations show interest in music from previous generations.

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Everyone’s background in hardcore is relative. For me, I missed out on the first wave of New York hardcore and I missed the second wave too, I never went to A7 or some of the earlier clubs, I never saw the Psychos, Gilligan’s Revenge or Outburst live. I don’t have memories about these infamous places and legendary bands, for two simple reasons. Firstly, I’m in my thirties. Secondly, I was born in Europe and I’ve been living here since my birth. Regardless of these things, I feel a mystical connection and attraction to these places. Last year (2016) I got the chance to spend some days in New York City and make one of my bucket dreams come true, so needless to say, I visited and explored these legendary locations… (Originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5.)

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Interview with DJ Spermicide – Part I.

DJ Spermicide (Marlene Goldman) interview originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 4.

CTM – How did you first come in contact with the hardcore punk scene? What was the first hardcore record that made an impact on you and why? What were some of your first shows you saw that you would classify as hardcore in NYC?

DJ Spermicide – I was already into punk music my first year at NYU in 1984, so when I started seeing shows, there were usually local bands opening for them, some hardcore. I remember going to an Exploited/UK Subs show at the Rock Hotel on Jane Street and the Cro-Mags was one of the opening bands. They had amazing energy but the crowd was a bit intimidating. My dorm in the East Village was not far from where the hardcore scene was happening, so when I started to see shows, I became exposed to some of the local bands. Some of the first hardcore music I heard was actually on cassette tapes while hanging out in Tompkins Square Park, bands like Circle Kaos. I saw a lot of shows at CBs–Reagan Youth, Underdog, Murphy’s Law, The Mob, Agnostic Front, Kraut, Warzone, Youth of Today, Token Entry, Straight Ahead. I also went to some all-day warehouse shows in Williamsburg, which back then was more like a war zone (and I’m not talking about the band) than the hipster enclave it is now. As in, you were always happy when you made it back alive. Anyway, there were dozens of bands playing at those shows, most of the names I don’t recall, but it was definitely a scene.

CTM – Who influenced you to start your own radio program? Did you used to listen to the “Noise the Show”? (Tim Sommer was the creator and host of Noise The Show, a pioneering New York City-based hardcore punk radio show aired during 1981-82 on WNYU.)

DJ Spermicide – I mostly listened to WNYU’s New Afternoon Show growing up on Long Island, which featured more of the alternative, college radio music with some punk and local music mixed in. After Noise the Show, Jon Fox had been hosting Hellhole, which was more of a punk/metal mix. I had been hanging out in Tompkins Square Park and a lot of the small, local bands were playing their tapes for each other, but there was not really an outlet for their exposure back then. The loss of Hellhole had left a void and the time slot opened on Thursday nights. I started with a one-hour version of Crucial Chaos, which eventually went to an hour and a half to accommodate the interviews and live bands. Murphy’s Law was my first guest on my first show. They brought up pizza and beer for the occasion.

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CTM – Crucial Chaos was really popular and the radio show left a huge impact on the hardcore scene. It was so influential that kids would run to Some Records to buy the records that were played the night before on air. A lot of musicians mentioned how important it was for them to play on Crucial Chaos. Jeff Terranova (Up Front) said he left a cassette tape in his bedroom stereo and taught his Mom how to start recording when they played. In those years every hardcore kid in NYC would tape the whole show to catch up on new releases, listen for gig announcements, ticket giveaways, interviews, not to mention the live sets that everyone anxiously waited for and hit the record button. What was your message that you want to give to people through this radio program? What did you accomplish with the Crucial Chaos?

DJ Spermicide – Obviously Chaos was in the pre-Internet, music sharing era, so hardcore kids only heard about bands through word of mouth or some other outlets, like Pat Duncan’s show on WFMU. I really wanted there to be a sense of community in the New York scene that revolved around the music, so promoting shows and new bands was all part of that. Letting them speak and get their message out was also one of my goals. For a lot of the kids, the hardcore scene was their family, their life. A lot of the kids I met came from broken homes or rough backgrounds—not everyone, but enough that I started to realize how important having this hardcore family was to them. It brought together street kids, squatters, and a lot of people who identified with that music and energy.

CTM – In 1986-87, and particularly the summer of 1987, it was a really amazing time to be into hardcore in New York City. I know that the different cliques seemed to get along, shows featured diverse bands on the bills, and there were lots of shows. I assume that Crucial Chaos contributed to the popularity of hardcore… What do you think about this period? Who were some memorable characters from the NYHC scene?

DJ Spermicide – It’s easy to romanticize that time in New York because of all the great music back then and all the colorful characters that made it such a unique place to live. But this was a turbulent era in New York history, which was reflected in the angst of the music. The city was filled with heroin dealers, people shooting up in Tompkins Square Park, newly released Reagan-era mental health patients, escalating crime, garbage cans on fire, graffiti everywhere, and a lot of grit and grime that in a lot of ways in turn brought the scene together. There were so many characters back then. I moved into the city in 1984, which was when A7, which was pretty much the birthplace of the hardcore scene, closed. The CBGB hardcore matiness on Sundays ended up being as much a gathering place as a place to hear the music. People back then… Of course Jimmy Gestapo and, Raybeez, big Charlie, Ralphie, Harley Flanagan, Roger Miret, John Joseph, Vinnie Stigma, Stephan from False Prophets. I used to hang out with some the Avenue C squatters. Others like John Spacely -Gringo- who ended up in the Sid and Nancy movie.

WNYU’s Crucial Chaos

WNYU’s Crucial Chaos (WNYU-FM (89.1 FM) is a college radio station owned and operated by New York University) was really popular in the ’80s and the radio show left a huge impact on the hardcore scene. It was so influential that kids would run to Some Records to buy the records that were played the night before on air. A lot of musicians mentioned how important it was for them to play on Crucial Chaos. In those years every hardcore kid in NYC would tape the whole show to catch up on new releases, listen for gig announcements, ticket giveaways, interviews, not to mention the live sets that everyone anxiously waited for and hit the record button. Crucial Chaos (hosted by DJ Spermicide) has had many classic NYHC bands on air such as Supertouch, Breakdown, Our Gang, Underdog, Token Entry, Warzone, Fit of Anger, Beyond etc.

DJ Spermicide (Marlene): “Some Records for a while was one of the sponsors of Crucial Chaos, meaning they would give us records in exchange for an air mention. It was a great place for smaller bands to get noticed and for everyone to mingle.” (New york Hardcore 1986-1993, by David Koenig)