An in-depth analysis of the history of Token Entry, interview with Zachary Wuerthner (Shining Life, Moshers Delight, Intent, Mob Mentality) and Gil Sayfan (Zeel, Free Spirit, Big Contest, Drug Doin’ Music etc.), it was originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 2. Pics by Ken Salerno, BJ Papas, Krissy Bedell.
This is definitely one of my favourite interviews I have ever done, it was really fun to do it. Gil and Zizzack took this picture specifically for the fanzine.
“With Jaybird, Token Entry are gonna break through from beneath the streets and give America a kick in the pants, whether its ready or not. Mark my words.” – Sold Out fanzine.
For me and for most of my friends Token Entry will always remain one of the best hardcore bands ever. Even though they are unfortunately less well-known than YOT, BOLD or GB, I mean Token Entry is a really underrated band. A very few kids speak about this band and nobody plays Token Entry cover songs. What is the reason for this? What is your opinion about this?
GIL: A lot of the qualities that make Token Entry a legendary hc band are probably the same reasons that contribute to them getting the shaft when it comes to being remembered as a world class band. TE occupy the weird space of NYHC that is just as good if not better than the rest but harder to nail down: They weren’t on Rev, they weren’t straight edge, they weren’t on the later reality tip of Breakdown/Raw Deal, they kind of occupy their own weird space where bands like Absolution, Rest In Pieces and NY Hoods fall. Being harder to classify maybe makes them come up in the conversation less. Bands like Mental who exposed NYHC to modern listeners turned new kids onto Underdog and Supertouch in a big way, same for Outburst, but the way I see it TE hasn’t gotten that spotlight. As far as why covers are so seldom it’s mainly because the songs are played with such intricacy that most don’t even attempt.
ZACK: It’s really very hard to place Token Entry into a certain category or throw them into a bucket with a certain group of bands since they were such incredible musicians. Bands at the forefront of late 80s NYHC such as YOT, BOLD, and GB were not fundamentally proficient at their instruments, which is what made them so endearing. Their music was for the common man, extremely easy to play, with very relatable lyrics, and they were remembered for their live performances rather than how well they played on record. I think what separated TE from this ilk is that they were actually good musicians that incorporated so many different influences into their songs – ripping solos, perfect guitar/vocal harmonization, straight up rock parts layered with melodies, etc. Essentially, their song writing is a cut above the aforementioned bands, and perhaps this is why we don’t see very many TE covers these days.
How was your first time meeting Token Entry? Do you have a fave release from them or do you like all their records equally?
GIL: My two introductions to the band were the Kid Dynamite cover of “Birthday” that has Ernie on it, and a copy of Jaybird that Sam BBB had picked up from Rock ‘n Roll Heaven in Orlando, FL. Having heard that song and then unlocking the key with access to the album itself complete with the visual of the cover art, it was definitely a hard hitting find. Windows, Pink Things, Entities – the groove of these songs spoke to me and was the puzzle piece to hearing bands like Mental mentioned before and drawing that line from their sound to the classic NYHC groove. My favorite release is Jaybird and has been since then so it is love at first sight for sure.
ZACK: Much like Gil, my first exposure to TE was through KD’s cover of “Birthday”, which piqued my interest enough to check out the band’s records. The first record I bought by TE was “Jaybird” because it had an eagle wearing sunglasses riding a skateboard across the album cover – basically the illest shit ever. Being knee-deep in the skateboarding game at the time, this really was just something that I had to have. With songs about skating such as the title track and the grooviness of the break parts in “Windows” I was completely sold. This record is my favorite release and was my soundtrack for walking to school every morning for about 3 months straight when I was in 10th grade.
Before he was in Raw Deal, Anthony Comunale was the original singer of Token Entry. What you can hear on the 7 inch are four tracks (Antidote, Psycho, Death Row, Forbidden Zone), all of which were later re-recorded, with Timmy Chunks on vocals for “From Beneath The Streets”. They have a three song demo session from 1986. It was recorded in San Francisco on Token Entry’s first American tour and they re-recorded these songs too. How do you compare the “Ready Or Not… Here We Come!!” 7 inch to the “From Beneath The Streets” LP?
GIL: I’ve always been partial to the FBTS versions of these 4 songs – mainly because they’re played faster and Timmy sings them in a more intense way. And on a more subconscious level, probably because I was introduced to the band through Timmy’s vocals so his voice to me is where the songs really come alive. On FBTS I think the songs are played in a more serious manner without losing any of the ambiance from the first takes. That’s not to take away from Ready or Not – “Antidote” on here is great, but the other 3 come to life on LP, they jump out at you more.
ZACK: I didn’t really get into the 7″ until quite some time after I heard their LPs. Before that, TE only existed in their first 2 full-length records for me, and that was the stuff that I had grown so accustomed to. Finding out that they had a release with a different singer that predated FBTS really blew my mind through the back of my skull. I love those versions of the songs, especially “Antidote” as Gil mentions, but I think their true power is realized through Timmy’s incredible vocal performance on the re-recordings.
Anthony Comunale or Timmy Chunks?
ZACK: Anthony Comunale’s best vocal performance lies not in TE, but rather Raw Deal. The essential TE vocalist is certainly Timmy Chunks. He has a complete sense of dominance in his vocal delivery over every song almost to the point where you could focus completely on him rather than the music and still be satisfied. On almost every song his vocals interplay with the rhythm of the guitar in perfect harmony. It always amazed me at how well you could make out every single word he sings, and I attribute that to how loud and powerful his vocals are over the music.
GIL: TE Comunale and his on-stage mosh moves where he’s actually dropping to the floor mid-skank is classic, but Timmy Chunks is Token Entry to me – his voice is just so powerful and he commands those songs perfectly, the personality that comes across in his delivery on the songs makes up a big part of how I think of the band. Timmy’s vocals have complete range that go through powerful spoken words to wildman screams. Comunale keeps it pretty level on the 7″ and like Zack says, he’d have his finest hour later on.
What are the best Token Entry songs, lyrically?
GIL: The best songs lyrically for me have to be: Entities (also one of my favorites musically), Psycho, Actions, and probably Token Entry the song. TE, like Rest In Pieces, sang about such a range of topics covering so many that are outside the standard fare of what hc bands sing about. I love songs like Think About It, Pink Things, Death Row cause they cover undiscussed topics or they just straight up tell a story. When you’re showing someone these albums, it’s hard not to be like yo this song is about Vietnam Vets! “Entities” was an early favorite and always has been because of the existential lyrics discussing people starting out the same in life, and questioning the paths people take in a way different than how a band like YOT would take on a topic like this. Token Entry the song is the band’s theme song, down to the most literal translation of their logo fitting over a mosh where the arrow and color green are explained “Like this tall skyscraper before my eyes positive construction has a limitless sky” – completely unique stuff. They didn’t have just one thing going for them, there’s a sense of humor and there’s a lot of seriousness too.
The songs on Jaybird are awesome both musically and lyrically. But do you like the sound on this record? (It was produced by Bad Brains’ guitarist Dr. Know.)
ZACK: I love the sound on Jaybird. Everything sounds so loud, full, and in your face yet you can still pinpoint each instrument very clearly in that they aren’t drowning each other out. I would never claim to understand any of the intricacies involved in recording, but I know one thing is certain – the quality of Jaybird is a major step up from FBTS in every single way.
GIL: Yeah I think the sound is their best definitely a step up from FBTS as far as capturing the power of the band. You hear it on Windows especially, there is a dark heaviness to the sound of the guitar which is off the wall cause the riff is fast and bouncy – there’s just a lot to this recording and it’s pretty dynamic in how much is going on. I don’t attempt to be an audio engineer, I leave that to Nasty Ned, but I think the important qualities of the band are captured on here.
Those hardcore veterans who saw them on stage, say they always put on a good, energetic live show. I have heard live tapes which sound equally awesome. What do you think about their live set at WNYU and their live songs from the Free For All compilation?
ZACK: I’m a very big fan of both recordings. The songs they play on the WNYU set are some of my favorite versions of those songs because they’re played even faster and sound a bit heavier as well. The FFA comp, although only 3 songs, might be some of the best quality live TE songs I’ve ever heard. You can definitely get a feel for the energy that was flowing through CBGB’s that day during the singalong in “The Edge” – almost feels as if I’m there when I listen to it.
GIL: These are my most consulted recordings, WNYU the Free For All tracks and WFMU rock. Hearing the FBTS played hard I always thought was the most important stuff to hear. A friend was over recently and I was bumping Free For All and he was surprised at how powerful it sounded. AJ who is also interviewed in this zine thinks I don’t like extended mosh parts, but he’s wrong – because I love the extended mosh in The Edge on Free For All. The last recording of the band I discovered was a WFMU set I got off Zack – it has one really loud lead guitar turned up all the way through it which makes it sound like Jimmy Hendrix is playing over all the songs – it’s awesome. Vinnie from Steinway Pianos could be 2014’s Neil Pollinger.
This will be hard to answer. Would you go to a reunion show if Token Entry only played from the “Weight of the World” album? Are you actually a fan of “Weight of the World”?
ZACK: No, I don’t like that record, and seeing those songs played live doesn’t really interest me at all. Sweet Pete actually shared a funny story with me and Gil about that record not too long ago. He bought the tape the day it came out in anticipation of it sounding like their older stuff, but after a few minutes of playing it in his car’s tape deck he deemed the record “monumentally bad” and actually threw it out of the window.
GIL: I generally think Weight of the World stinks and aside from the song where they mention Taco Bell doesn’t get much interest out of me.
Ernie’s artwork has always been one of my favourites from the “Ready Or Not… Here We Come!!” cover to the cover of “Jaybird” and let me just say, the “From Beneath The Streets” cover is one of the best things I have ever seen. What do you think about his artwork? His art seems to have had a huge impact on the Free Spirit t-shirt designs.
GIL: I’m a huge fan of the Ernie artwork. The smaller illustrations in the inserts and all the shirt designs, the lettering, they knew how to make a record worth looking at and a shirt design that I imagine would move quick. When Radio Silence came out the TE hand-painted jacket was one of the biggest gems in there. The Token Entry references in FS started early on when we suggested the FBTS style as a joke – then one day Ken rolled up to an early practice with a sketch he did of all of us in there, which then became a shirt design. We referenced them again when it came time to do a Cali tour shirt. Their attention to detail and the contribution of quality artwork from a drummer definitely had an influence on our band. Ken was drawing those cartoons before some of us knew what a talented artist he was, now he’s doing 4 foot oil paintings.
ZACK: Ernie was an artistic genius. His penchant for humanoid birds and caricature-esque cartoon drawings that are found on all the good TE releases will be forever remembered as some of the best art ever put forth by a member of the American hardcore scene. It’s even more special that art production in TE was an in-house operation – everything was done by an actual member of the band. This kept all of their art very true to the nature of the band since is was done so close to home. What I can appreciate most about Ernie’s art is that it’s not perfect, which in turn makes it very relatable to the viewer. Perfection lies within imperfection, in my eyes.
Black jaybird shirt. Yellow cartoon shirt with Ernie drawing. White logo shirt, Positive Force sleeveprint. Do you have a favorite TE t-shirt design?
ZACK: My favorite TE design is their 1988 tour shirt featuring the Jaybird skating over a gold badge with their American flag-infused logo on the front. This shirt belongs in a fucking museum.
GIL: My favorite is the arrow logo shirt with the sleeve print mainly because of its universal quality – you see it in so many old photos, there’s always one of those in the pit, and it’s lifted from real life in NYC at the time, like if you wore that shit in the city I imagine people wouldn’t even realize it’s a band they would think you got it on canal street.
Did you know that Timmy Chunks used to be an advertising face of Pepsi? He was a huge Pepsi fan with lots of Pepsi tattoos. Somehow the company got a wind of this, he appeared in a few magazines with his tattoos and one time they paid his flight from NYC to California where one of his Pepsi tattoos was done. Do you have any interesting or funny stories about TE that you wanna share with us?
ZACK: I think my Sweet Pete story above covers this one.