Rhythm To The Madness interview originally published in It Runs Deep fanzine, issue one. (Click the picture for bigger size.) Photos by emortality, Rolf and Fredrik.
An in-depth analysis of the history of Mental, interview with Ambrose Nzams and Dylan Chadwick / Part II.
This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5 (2017). Photos by Dylan Chadwick, Patrycja Gagan, Start Today fanzine, Mike the mosher, Marlon, Chiller Than Most fanzine.
CTM: At that time the Mental Lp got lots of negative criticism. What do you think was the reason for that?
Dylan: I vaguely remember it getting criticized, but by that point I was tuning out all the negative stuff around them, so I don’t really know. I love that album personally, and saw them a whole lot on the tour they did to promote it. I love that they wrote an LP that was entirely new material and loved the more introspective nature of the lyrics. The big comparison point I remember hearing is that it was “really Quicksand-esque” which sounded really cool at the time because it just wasn’t the type of band you’d expect Mental to be compared to. It would be kind of ironic if the same people who always criticized Mental for not being “serious” enough went on to criticize them for writing more “serious” music, but I bet that happened because so many hardcore fans have such a narrow view towards music, rock and punk and all that.
Ambrose: I can’t really say what it was really like ’cause I was 15 when it came out, but I definitely dismissed it because my peers and elders did. I mean the obvious reason for the backlash would be like the more “adult” vibe of the record; if you got into Mental because you mistakenly perceived it as something goofy and goofy alone then you’d be let down. I would also say that time’s were just changing: the end of Posi Numbers, the crew stuff, “Mental Broke Edge”, the real beginnings of social media, “Desperate Times”, etc. And, call me out if this is a faulty hypothesis, but it feels like back then roasting something or hating on something was more prevalent, or at least more public. If I was being foolish and naively positive, I’d say people were maybe more passionate, but in reality, people just wanted to put people down and could do so easier in the shadows of message-board or (e-)zine anonymity. Now, when a record you and your friends don’t like comes out, you just shit on it in a group chat and ignore it publicly until it goes away.
CTM: Ambrose, you wrote earlier that “Story Time” sounds like the sort of fun faux-fiction tale of the cyclical nature of hardcore that it is and so on and so forth. This is a very interesting topic, so please let us know more about this issue. What do you mean by the cyclical nature of hardcore? Dylan, I would love to know your opinion too.
Ambrose: I always thought it was super obvious, I don’t know. It’s all in the lyrics! “Story Time” is about a kid who didn’t know who he was and could have taken a bad route but “someone showed him something that blew his mind, that’s when he found his kind.” Everyone’s coming of age in hardcore story is probably pretty similar. Later, the kid grows up, doing everything the “right way” (for the subculture) and started to doubt his involvement until he meets a younger kid and “could see in those eyes what almost died” in him. A disillusionment with the mainstream world causing a connection to an outsider culture and then an eventual disillusionment with the outsider culture that saved you, but a reminder of it’s capabilities in the hopeful eyes of a younger kid puts you at peace. “The story never ends, it starts over again.” Related, I was having a conversation with some friends the other night about current hardcore and I’ve been thinking a lot about being 27 and how–although that’s still young in the world–in hardcore, it’s tougher to be moved by the same sort of stuff that would have moved you at 21 (or 19, or 17 or 15, etc.). So now, instead of outright loving or hating something, I think a lot about it’s merits for young kids; if a band is doing something that I think is cool or interesting or has a message or vibe or aesthetic I support, then that’s much more important than me liking their songs. Not to take away from the importance of writing good songs, but I don’t know, I’ve always been a proponent of this shit being much more than music (“…it’s a way of life!”)
Dylan: I’ve always interpreted the song to be about the cyclical nature of LIVING in that you start out, you don’t know shit and you kind of depend on other people to show you the way. Then, you get older and more experienced and suddenly YOU’RE the person people are depending on. Then, you enter new experiences and suddenly you’re the fuckin freshman again. IDK.
CTM: I’m not sure if I’ve ever talked about this. Me and my grandfather were very close. For the first few days after my grandfather died, I kept waiting for somebody to say something that made it feel better, or less painful. I just put the Planet Mental record on the turntable and play the “You never know” again and again. Honestly, this song helped me so much more than you’d think. Which Mental songs are the most important lyrically to you on the Planet Mental LP?
Dylan: I think Bad Brain. It’s a song (to me) all about not letting complacency and negativity stop you from creating. For me, when I’m not making art, I am miserable. I get really depressed. I 100% vibe with those lyrics.
Ambrose: Honestly, “Earthlings” is probably the most relatable to me lyrically. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life watching other human beings trying to learn how to be a human being but knew all along that those versions of human being-ness weren’t for me. “Don’t care about running, don’t wanna finish the race.”
CTM: There was the song featured on the Sweet Vision compilation “Get A Life”, and then there was “The Evils” on the Generations compilation.(They were on the Stab To Kill compilation and Town of Hardcore compilation too.) “Get A Life” and “The Evils” are severely underrated Mental jams, what do you think about these songs?
Ambrose: Both good songs, both definitely appropriate as comp only tracks. If I had to put them against each other, I’d pick “The Evils” because it’s the best song title (“D’Evils”) and also the lyrics are better.
Dylan: If I’m being honest, I need to revisit “the Evils” cuz I can’t even remember it. I love the breakdown in Get a Life though. I love that they wrote a new song instead of re-doing a version of an existing song already. I did an interview with Greg a while back and he told me the comp was made in one day with everyone in the studio together. To have been a fly on the wall during that recording session!
CTM: One of the best things about the Lockin’ Out compilation is that I like the Sweet Vision recordings better than the re-recorded versions. What is the best song on Sweet Vision? Why did you choose this song?
Dylan: I have changed my answer on this a bunch. In college, I really loved the SOS song, mostly because I like that noodly guitar shit at the end of the track and always feel that band came out of left field with their references and whatnot. I think a strong answer would be Jaguarz “Survival” because that breakdown is ridiculous and the lyrics are super awesome, like “what’s that noise, was it me or him?” It’s just super cool how it’s a dude’s internal monologue. Ultimately I think the RJ’s track is the best though. It just fires on every level in that it’s already a KILLER song and the best recorded version of it, the sample (which I later learned is from a workout video). It bangs.
Ambrose: The best song on the Sweet Vision comp is definitely “Feeding Time At The Zoo / Hangman’s Noose” but I say that with a hesitance. It’s a great song and the lo-fi comp version feels way better than the LP version BUT it produced two of the worst shirts ever made: the one with the noose printed on the center, right on the upper chest, in between the collar and ‘The Wrong Side’ bolded in all caps; and whatever shirt or shirts that said ‘Feeding Time Is Over’ on the back.
CTM: If you could release a Mental tribute 7 inch compilation and you can choose any 4 bands you want from old and current bands (each 1 song) which bands would it be and why?
Ambrose: With all due respect, and not to be a copout, but tribute records are the worst. I would also say that a tribute record is the antithesis of what Mental was about. To me, Mental always seemed pro-reminiscing but so anti-nostalgia.
Dylan: I’d have Power Trip do the whole Sweet Vision comp. LMAO. IDK. I really love Lockin Out, but also have not-so-fond memories of the influx of “LOC-LITE” bands who sprung up in the later 2000s doing wacky graphics and graffiti fonts and stuff, minus the clever lyrics and memorable riffs.
CTM: Me and my friends were all so excited to see them when they played Europe in 2005. Mental played all the shows with Justice which released Elephant Skin by the time. We arrived to Vienna early in the morning to catch them in Austria. We spent the day in the city center sight seeing, enjoying the variety of shopping opportunities, and chilling on the riverside. Finally, we managed to miss the complete Justice set and I still have bad dreams about it haha. Mental was sooo bad ass btw, these guys were seriously mental. What’s been the most memorable Mental show you’ve been to and why?
Ambrose: Maybe this disqualifies me from being apart of this, but I never saw Mental.
Dylan: I got to see some great ones. The standout for me was in SLC. They played with Justice and Life Long Tragedy on the Planet Mental tour (I have the flyer somewhere) and then some locals. I won’t go too into it but at that time, SLC was kind of a weird place for shows. Still kind of on that straight edge hangover from the 90’s, so basically if a band didn’t sound like Grimlock or Stigmata, they got no reaction. I’d just started college and was SO hyped up on hardcore you know, like the Posi Numbers era, and had just seen an assfull of summer shows that had blown my mind. So anyway, I’d already seen Mental on 2 different dates of this tour and the reactions had all been insane, but at SLC there was hardly any reaction. I remember being SO ANGRY that no one was moshing LOL. I just remember going crazy. Like air-guitaring through every song, just like giving them the reaction I felt they deserved. I bet everyone thought I was some junkie who’d been let in off the street. They broke up just a few months after so it was the last chance I had to see them really.
CTM: Breakbeats are drum parts—usually culled from funk, R&B records. Rap music has had its influence on hardcore for a long time, and hip-hop also had a heavy influence on Mental. The rap intro is biblical on the second demo, they made a Whodini cover on their LP, and Mental played a “8 miles” intro on their Planet Mental record release show. Do you like these elements?
Dylan: Yeah definitely. I am not as knowledgeable re: hiphop as I am many of the other subculture musics, but I used to go DL all the songs in the town of hardcore hip hop column. I loved that hip hop has kind of always been a cultural touchstone for NYHC bands, and since Mental essentially played the re-up of NYHC (via Boston) in the early 00’s it totally makes sense hip hop would be a big aesthetic factor.
Ambrose: I always thought it was so cool that Greg was a staunch proponent of current rap. There’s that interview in Town Of Hardcore where the rest of the band kinda clowns him for only being into the current stuff and he doesn’t waver in his opinion. I think that’s really cool.
CTM: Dumptruck helped create the Lockin’ Out sound with their cassette. This is basically left over early Mental tunes that were too hard, and they got one of their friends to sing on them. Do you like the Feelin’ Good demo?
Ambrose: Yeah, of course.
Dylan: Shit I LOVE this demo. I did the sickest Chris Morgado interview like 7 years ago now. We talked wrestling and illustration and Dump Truck and everything. I never published it because I’m a dumbass. But yeah, I love the Wrong Side. My fav lil nugget from that interview is hearing that Dump Truck had a song called “March of the cockroaches” and (I think) it’s what became “Feeding time at the zoo.” I could be wrong on that last bit though.
CTM: I think Mental really knew how to do record covers and record release covers right. Rasta cover, Mental Crew cover, Earth Sucks cover, Morgado covers, Sean Taggart cover etc. What do you think about their covers, what do you think of the style of their covers?
Dylan: I feel like I already covered this throughout the interview, but I always loved that Mental didn’t do “stereotypical HC artwork” for their records. For the most part, none of the LOC bands did. It wasn’t like generic youth crew live shot stuff or metalcore skulls and cursive lettering…just kind of like a visual overdose that pulled queues from tons of artists I liked. Like, you know the Look Alive cover kinda looked like Keith Haring art, or the Rage of Discipline LP looked like one of those generic DJ sleeves. That shit always made you wonder what the tunes contained within sounded like, you know? Yeah, I will always love the fact that Mental’s covers were unique.
Ambrose: And You Know This cover is a little crude and juvenile, Get An Oxygen Tank is cleaner, more pro, features art by an OG. Yo! is far from subdued but it’s a step down from the colorfulness of GAOT, and then Planet Mental is muted and more abstract. Every record cover tells you so much about the record. As far as the special covers, I’ve always been partial to ‘Earth Sucks’. I know it’s simple, but sometimes simple’s the best.
CTM: My personal favourite cover is probably the Mental cat cover of the Bum Rush EP. Why did they change the artwork, what do you think?
Ambrose: Honestly, no idea. Love the cat’s slippers.
Dylan: I never really got the story, and I’ve asked! No idea. That is a good cover. I remember when it was making the rounds on the internet though!
CTM: Thanks for the interview guys! Finally, what are your fave Mental t-shirt designs?
Dylan: The Pam Grier shirt is the only right answer.
Ambrose: On Instagram the other day, this woman I know posted a picture of her in a white longsleeve with the word ‘Mental’ like repeatedly stamped and then stamped over it with a sort of white border was a red or orange ‘Mental’ in the same font as the blue, and I think that might win. Need that shirt. Prior to seeing that one though, my favorite was definitely the black Elephant shirt. They didn’t make many black shirts, so that one feels special. Also, in the market for the Mental / Desperate Measures ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’ tour shirt too. That one couldn’t really fly in the modern era. The only Mental shirt that I currently have is the yellow one with the gorilla on the front and the back. I’ve worn it out a total of one time because I’m not quite confident in that yellow. The Pam Grier one is obviously great, but I can’t wear that in public. Before we exit, next time we gotta talk about the Yo 7″. “Bootleg” are my favorite Mental lyrics; “They cared, I care, you should care.” Incredible.
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.
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.
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…”)
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.
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.
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).
Legendary guitarist and fanzine editor, Alex Brown, has tragically passed away at the age of 52. I would like to extend my condolences to the Brown family, his bandmates, and friends.
Photos by BJ Papas, Tim McMahon, Nicky, Impact fanzine, Schism book (B9 Press / Bridge Nine Records).
Original Chartpak dry transfer letters of the Schism font.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.