STEVE ROCHE Interview
I've been listening to screamy hardcore for well over a decade and am at this point and I'm not showing any signs of slowing down. 2 of the bands that really caught my attention and got me into this style of music continue to do so today are Saetia and Off Minor. I contacted STEVE ROCHE about doing an interview a few months ago, and much to my surprise he was game. To be honest, I nearly had an endorphin overload. I can scratch another person off my hero's I need to interview list, along with Stephen Brodsky, Thomas Schlatter, Casey Boland, Chris Story, Steven Williams and Ryan Lewis.
20 questions. Included are his views on politics, veganism, touring, a huge back story on Saetia, a very intimate look at Off Minor and their positive and negative experiences, Permanent Hearing Damage (his recording studio) and pretty much every band he has ever played in. He is a member of War Emblem, who have their new album up on bandcamp, so check it out here!
1) Assuming that some readers may be unaware of Steve Roche, can you please describe yourself and your involvement in the music scene over the last 15 years?
I have played in bands since I was in high school, but none of note until Saetia, I suppose. I joined as the bassist for most of the band's touring life and final 7" and I sloppily played guitar for part of the last show. Somewhere during all of that, I became a volunteer at ABC No Rio, where I ultimately booked shows for a few years ('99 thru '02 or so). Around the same time, I started recording records for people. After Saetia, I played drums and sang a bit in Off Minor. We put out several records and toured a whole lot - probably more than I ever will again. We played about 400 shows on 4 continents. I have played in many bands during and since - Books Lie, Amateur Party, Yo Man Go (a good band despite the unfortunate name), and Pink Coffins did some touring. There were/are several new and/or unnamed projects. I also did some fill in touring for Yaphet Kotto and This Machine Kills in there. Recording is the thing I probably do most seriously. I usually work on 30+ records a year at my studio, Permanent Hearing Damage.
2) You played drums in some seminal bands. How would you describe your style?
I have no idea how to describe my style of playing. I'm mostly self-taught. I just try to play what I hear in my head. I did take lessons here and there but I think playing in Off Minor was the thing that pushed my playing forward more than anything. Lots of crazy time signatures and weird changes in those songs. It was challenging. I do play in five bands at the moment. I play drums in War Emblem, Bore War (with my brother, Off Minor bassist), and a band with Jeff from Bridge and Tunnel called Ordinary Lives and we just started playing shows. I also play bass in a band called Xanax. The scheduling is a little tricky, but each band is pretty different musically, so each allows me to work on different aspects of my playing. Also, none of the bands are super-active, so that helps fitting it all in. I'm currently trying to get less shitty at playing a double bass pedal - the going is slow.
3) Please elaborate on Permanent Hearing Damage. What’s your space like?
Permanent hearing damage is the name my recording studio has gone by since probably 2004 or so (I've been recording records with some frequency since January 2000). It has been in the same space since 2008 -a huge sub-divided warehouse in north Philly. It consists of a 1000 sq foot live room, a small isolation room and large control room. It's a bit rough around the edges, but serves well for what I use it for. I only offered analog recording until late in 2008, when I slowly started switching to digital. Now my tape machines are essentially boat anchors - they probably haven't even been powered up in two years.
Switching to digital was pretty difficult for me. I had to relearn many things and it took me a long time to realize a lot of things tape did for me. That said, I am really proud of the recordings I have been making in recent years. And with the ease of transferring digital files online, I can mix records for bands from Sweden or Malaysia or wherever. It has really opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I'm pretty affordable, so I only hope that the remote mixing work continues to grow.
I have had a couple interns over the years, but that is about it. I like working on my own. I have a day job - I work at Planned Parenthood. I would be starving if recording was all I had to support myself. The bands I work with never have much money to spend and with recording gear so cheap these days, anyone with $500 can claim to have a recording studio - so it's become increasingly harder to keep studios open.
Bands you work with regularly?
There are a lot of bands and people that I have worked with many times. Tom Schlatter has worked with me in every studio I have ever had. I think I have recorded nearly every release he has played on since You and I split up. Bands don't always have such a long lifespan, but there are a lot of people who keep coming back, and I have formed a lot of friendships that way.
A great experience?
I have had so many great experiences making records. Working with friends who are in great bands is always fun. I did have a really fun time working with Deep Pockets from New York last year. I had never met any of them before but we became fast friends and had a great time making an awesome record.
A bad experience?
There haven't been that many standout bad experiences, though I will share one. The band were friends of an old acquaintance so I didn't know them personally. They showed up over three hours late and brought a few partners and a producer when the studio was still in my little west Philly house. Upon arrival, said producer took the drummer to get beer. I directed them to a place on my street just two blocks away. They returned some 40 minutes later stating they had gotten lost. The producer then added, "I'm not racist or anything," (but you're about to say something really racist), "but I'm not used to seeing so many black people." I lived a few short blocks from an Ivy League university in a pretty diverse neighborhood, which I pointed out to him. I did my best to ignore him for the remainder of the session.
4) What would you like to say about your personal life? Outside of music, what kind of a person are you?
I have a fairly serious job at the local Planned Parenthood (we are all divided up geographically) - working in HR as a sort of an IT person. Though I have been there many years at this point; I worked in clinics and even ran a health center - I'm a pretty good phlebotomist, actually. Aside from that, I just bought a house in south Philly where I live with my girlfriend, Amanda. She does letterpress printing and fortunately for me, is very tolerant of my many late nights playing shows and in the studio. I've been vegan for 12 years and I ride my bicycle all over the place. I try and travel on my own now that my bands don't so much anymore. I used to think I was a decent vegan cook, but I have come to the realization that I am really only good at making comfort food (biscuits and gravy is probably my best).
5) What brings you the most joy?
Mixing records, nailing that drum fill, finishing a long bike ride, eating vegan treats (I have a horrible sweet tooth), sharing ridiculous moments with Amanda, and climbing into bed when I'm completely exhausted for any of those reasons.
6) Would you like to delve more into the vegan issue? This is certainly talked about a lot more now than when you started 12 years ago. Why did you start?
Honestly, I went to college a meat eater from the suburbs. I think I may have known a single vegetarian previously, though my brother did try it out for a bit the spring before I went off to college. I started meeting kids in the DIY hardcore punk scene in New York and at that time (mid 90s) it was very political and had a lot of animal rights associations - this was certainly a peak of vegan/vegetarianism in the scene since I've known it. At the time I was eating a burger a day in the dining halls. When I started reading about the amount of resources that went into making processed meat - just the amount of grain that went into it and how little meat it actually yielded - along with the fact that these animals were pumped full of antibiotics and hormones (kept some degree of health artificially) - it just seemed logical that not eating it was in the best interest of even myself and other humans, never mind the animals.
So I tried it out for a few weeks an stuck with it. I slowly started cutting out eggs and dairy - I never cared much for either of them. Within a few years, I was totally vegan. I can probably count the amount of intentional exceptions I've made since on one hand - most of hose were on tour in another country. That said, I don't think I'm overly dogmatic about it. I have a lot of meat eaters for friends, certainly. Even Amanda (my girlfriend), who I share a house with, eats meat.
I don't know how to say this without sounding like an old man, but here it goes. It is so much easier now than 10 years ago to be a vegan in the world. Hell, even New York only had a handful or vegan or vegan friendly places to eat - now even in smaller cities, many places have vegan options. And just the caliber of vegan food out there is pretty amazing these days - especially if you like comfort food and baked goods like me.
7) Tell us more about your brother. As you mentioned, not only is he your brother, but band and touring mate for over a decade. I would assume that that kind of prolonged exposure to each other made you extremely close. I should also mention that his bass riffs on ‘Innominate’, in particular, were phenomenal.
Certainly. Kev and I have been through an awful lot together. In the last couple of years, due to various circumstances, we have probably drifted a bit, but each other probably accounts for nearly half of what we each would consider important family.
He used to live only a few blocks away from me and our group houses were pretty close knit for many years. We don't see as much of one another and our lives are both very different from how they were five years ago, but we do remain close and talk pretty frequently - doing our best to help each other through whatever crisis the other might be going through.
Admittedly, Jamie wrote the vast majority of the bass lines. I'm certain Kev embellished them and added his own twist to things - and his playing certainly improved tremendously playing with Jamie, as did my own.
8) While all this stuff is relatively fresh, what are your thoughts regarding the government shutdown?
Certainly it's frustrating. It's difficult to feel much more than that as I feel that our political system is essentially a single business party masquerading as a two party system. There are some subtle differences for sure, but they usually act in the best interests of the companies that give them campaign dollars. If our government really had the best interests of all of us in mind, schools in Philadelphia wouldn't be closing left and right while we spend millions every minute to remotely rain bombs on other parts of the world and spy on all of us.
Much as I feel the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction, I am disappointed that it gives such huge concessions to the greedy commercial insurance companies that have pushed everything so far in the wrong direction. Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United, Cigna are all as terrible as Boeing or Monsanto. They kill people every day. As someone who works in the health care industry, I think that if anyone who works for one of those companies should die - the world would be a better place. I understand that people need to work and all, but reaping rewards for inflicting suffering on other people is not how anyone should earn their living.
That said, I am glad for the millions of people who can now get insurance. And I feel that this shutdown just goes to show how little regard politicians have for their constituents. I always liked the idea of senators and representatives having corporate logos on their suits like Nascar drivers.
9) Back to music. What kind of equipment do you use at Permanent Hearing Damage? Is there a particular piece of equipment that has more character than the others, or is your personal favourite?
For the first eight or nine years, I worked on analog tape machines (1/2" 8 track then 1" 16 track, then 2" 24 track), through an analog board and mixed down to either a DAT machine or a CD burner. I had used DAWs to edit some things together here and there and fix little things. I think I sequenced Heat Death of the Universe on some early version of Pro Tools in 2002 and I remember dropping in a guitar phrase I had accidentally punched over on a recording of what would become In First Person in 2005 or 2006 in some version of Cool Edit (I honestly wasn't even sure it would work, but it did).
Late in 2008, I actually started using DAWs for editing and some subtle effects after dumping from tape, but would still mix through the analog board. Within six months, I was mixing entirely in the box and stopped tracking to tape completely after another year or two. Though, I think it took me a very long time to realize some of the things that tape did for me - like roll off a lot of the sub bass information (stuff that eats up headroom and can make a mix a huge mess in the box). It pains me to admit it, but I think I ruined a good number of records in that learning process. I have been pretty stoked on the recordings I have made in the last few years and I'm always getting better.
As for gear, I think the biggest thing is my huge live room. It's 1000 sq feet with high ceilings. I rarely need to add any artificial reverb to drums that are cut there and I think it gives the recordings an element of realism. I have a pretty good mic collection and I rarely use the same mics on sources. I do try to mix it up, but there are some things that make it on a lot of recordings. Audio Technica 4033s and Shure SM98s get a lot of use. I think I could probably track an entire record with only those two types of microphones, though I would need a few more to try it. Believe it or not, I spent more money on plugins than probably anything else this year.
10) Can you give us your history in Saetia? What are your feelings about the band after all these years?
Well, I saw their first show because I was friends with Alex, the first bassist. I met him at NYU (where all of Saetia, aside from Adam Marino, went to school) where he had grown up near my new friend, Adam Schwartz (took many of Saetia's photos - maybe all of the ones on the records). Admittedly, I had never heard that style of punk/hardcore before (this was certainly before the term "screamo" really started being used). That was also the first time I ever went to ABC No Rio.
They played some shows that summer and I managed to see a few of them. At some point that fall, Alex quit and they asked my friend, Colin, to play bass instead. Colin was actually a guitarist and didn't own a bass, so I lent him a cheapo P Bass I had. At the same time, I was volunteering regularly at ABC No Rio - like every Saturday. And Jamie and I became very close. We hung out all the time and suffered through many terrible sets that fall/winter.
At some point that winter, the 7" was self-released by the band. By released, I mean, the record was pressed and we (I volunteered to help at the time) slowly assembled them. The handmade packaging was pretty over the top. There were two color screened overjackets on handmade paper (all of that was made by Matt Smith in Chicago) and a photocopied insert was glued to scratchboard that had to be cut out and then we had to scratch something into it. Oh and we had to stamp the record label - they were blank/white. I think the first 100 or 200 copies were like that. Colin managed to scratch "1 of 1000" into probably 20 or 30 of them. Several later turned up on Ebay taking this to mean they had #1.
After that, I think Matt started screening covers on rejected prints from the Art Institute's darkroom. Then we got pretty lazy. I think there were a lot that were merely photocopied. Ultimately, the last of them were sold on Off Minor tours with stamped envelopes.
I think all of the different packaging schemes that were used made for some serious confusion over pressings. There was only ever one pressing of 1000, all on black vinyl. I think some of the guys did their best to proliferate the myth that 100 of them were pressed on white vinyl via Skylab commerce (for those unfamiliar - an early/primitive version of Discogs, sorta).
Somewhere in there, they reached an agreement with Chris Jensen (sole owner at the time of Mountain Records, which evolved into the Mountain Coop) to release an LP. I remember Adam Marino was pretty determined to record with Geoff Turner at WGNS in DC, based on the 400 Years LP he had recorded (Suture). He got his way. Mountain even paid for the recording - funny how things have changed in the indie record label world since!
In the Spring, as they were gearing up to record their LP and play a lot of shows and fests, Adam told everyone he was quitting to join Error Type: 11. Colin was much more comfortable on guitar, so he wanted to take Adam's slot. Admittedly, I was not part of all of the conversations, but what ended up happening was they asked me to fill in on bass for the summer tour until Matt Smith could move from Chicago and take the bass slot. Adam was still going to play on the record and would play some of the upcoming shows. I was happy to do it. I was just getting to know Greg and Billy and Colin and Jamie were already good friends of mine. I started practicing pretty shortly after that.
I played my first shows with them in DC, Virginia Beach and outside Philly with a band called Love Lies Bleeding. I still didn't know that many songs, but the shows went okay and the guys seemed generally happy with how it went.
After that, I went on tour with my own band, God Awful, with Kevin. It was a bit of a disaster, but we had some fun times in there. I came back and resumed practicing. I believe Billy was studying in London, so practices were without him and we seemed to be moving along okay. In our down time, we were assembling CDs in a frenzy so we had things to sell.
We were set to go out on tour I think in early August of 1998. I requested time off of work and our friends Eric (Rumpshaker fanzine) and Robb were all set to come as well. Closure had broken up so it was just going to be all of us. Colin and Greg drove down to Delaware to rent the van. Somehow, on their drive back to New York, where we were all sitting on Jamie's stoop waiting to leave, Greg and Collin had decided that we couldn't afford to rent the van. We were frantically trying to find another van to buy for the tour. We looked at Franklin's van in Philly and were set to buy it. We sat around for the whole day while Greg and Colin returned the rented van to Delaware (after replacing the cracked windshield - a rock had flown off a truck). Somewhere in there, Franklin changed their mind about selling their van, so we were back to the drawing board. At that point, we gave up and cancelled the entire tour. We managed to play a show in Connecticut and I think ABC and that was it.
I think we had a rocky couple months where we weren't sure what we were doing or if we were going to continue being a band. At that point, Matt still hadn't moved, so I was still "filling in." We agreed to do a short tour in the midwest that winter with You and I and Racebannon. God Awful tagged along as well, despite being pretty out of place.
Maybe a week before this tour, Alex Madera passed away. Most of the guys had grown apart from him, myself included. But it was sad to lose him, nonetheless - he was a big part of my introduction to this world, really. I honestly hadn't thought about that in a long time.
The tour was pretty successful, despite some horrible weather and van issues. Greg's parents had gifted him a van for us to use. It was a cargo van and was horribly freezing in the back during this tour. I remember both a sandwich and can of coke froze solid on the drive to Minneapolis (I think it was ten below zero). The shows were all pretty good, save the last one at the Legion of Doom on New Year's day. Jamie kinda flipped out and ran off to the van after the first song. Colin angrily punched a hole in the kitchen wall (it was still there the last time I was at the Legion in 2011 - they even knew which hole in the kitchen wall it was. Amazing that probably 30-40 generations of roommates later, people still knew!). Admittedly, I never fully understood what happened and I don't know that we ever talked about it. That night, we stayed in a hotel close to the PA border and woke to find ourselves buried in snow. We called Andrew Martini a few hours later to cancel our show at Stalag 13 (I never did manage to play there, funny enough).
Oh, this might be a good time to mention that at this point in time, none of us had any idea how to tour - I'm not sure that everyone learned, but I know I did shortly after. We would never stay at someone's house (with rare exception). We would typically hang out after the show for a little bit, load up, drive till some horribly late hour and get a hotel we could only sleep in for like 5 hours. In hindsight, it was pretty foolish and an easy way to spend any money we might have made on the tour - not that there was much of that.
After that tour, it was agreed that we would record a 7" for Witching Hour Records. I recorded it as a final project in a Recording Class I was taking. I mixed in on NS10s, which I was completely unfamiliar with. They are very midrangey, so if you are unfamiliar with them, you are pretty likely to put particularly midrangey aspects of a record (vocals, guitars) a bit lower than you would otherwise. I haven't listened to that mix in a long time, but it was determined that the vocals were too low and I didn't have time for a remix. We sent the tapes (DA88 - early digital multitrack) to a friend in Chicago to transfer them to tape and mix. Without any of us present, it came back pretty vocal heavy, but it had to go to press by then, so we were kinda stuck with it. I did offer to remix it years later for the discography, but that is another story.
We stumbled through the next few months, a short spring tour and a tumultuous month long US tour that summer - Usurp Synapse joined us for about two weeks of this. We had the LPs in time for this one - though the first 100 had covers that were reverse negatives. This time we had a van, so we managed to not cancel it (save a few shows in Canada - mostly due to fear of crossing the border). There was a pretty rough night in St Louis where most of the guys were not getting along with Jamie and we managed to sorta talk through it/avoid the pressing issues enough for the remainder of the tour. But once we were back, Colin had had enough so he quit.
At long last, Matt Smith was moving back to New York. His apartment in Wicker Park in Chicago had been a home base for us for most of the tours we did out that way and he and I got along pretty well. Adam Schwartz and I drove out with Greg to get him. Jamie, Matt and I worked vigorously to get him up to speed. Shortly after the first practices, Jamie decided that Matt was probably as good a guitarist as I was (not very good), but was a better bassist than I. So in the interest of only having one weak link, it was decided that I would switch to guitar. We practiced a good 4 or 5 times a week in Jamie's basement in preparation for an upcoming show.
We finally all practiced together a few days before the show. We would run through songs that were a complete mess and Greg would simply say, "That's fine, let's do the next one." We all thought it was pretty strange and I think Billy tried talking to him - he denied anything was wrong. The rest of the rehearsal went like this. Over the next day, we decided we would have a band meeting over dinner to talk it over. Greg didn't show, so we decided the band was over.
There was a lot of going back and forth as to whether or not we would play the upcoming show at ABC that Saturday. We ultimately decided to play and invited Colin to join us. I had only learned a few songs on guitar, so we played 4-5 songs with me on guitar and Matt on bass and the remainder of the set with Colin on guitar and me on bass.
The next day, Off Minor had its first practice.
The thing about Saetia was that as I never really felt like it was "my band." I never felt that comfortable playing bass and there was never really any discussion about my place in the band aside from initially filling in. I played on most of the tours (I think maybe 50 of 80-something shows) and wrote parts of the last record (even some drum parts).
Years later, after Greg and I had parted ways with Level Plane (he and I initially started it as a joint venture), Level Plane was going to do the discography. At the time, both Off Minor and Hot Cross were playing shows and there was certainly a little animosity at the time between the two groups - especially between Jamie and I and Greg. Greg asked each of us to write something for the discography. I had a lot of conflicted feelings about Saetia, and as I said earlier, I never felt like a full member of the band, really. I did not want to come off as bitter or hostile, and generally did not feel like I had much to add. I mean, how many times can someone read about band histories that go something like "This band was formed by 5 (or 4 or 3) special people at this point in their lives, blahblahblah.?" It just seemed too self-important and I didn't think I wanted to take part. To my surprise, when the discography finally did come out, there was no list of who played what, who recorded what, etc (the things listed on pretty much every record and discography) - just the writings. I can't help but feel like this was partially a "Fuck you" from Greg to me, directly - to basically write me out of the band history. Had I known that was how it was going to be, I likely would have written something, even if it was short, but here we are.
The only real lingering wart, in my remembering this band is that despite the fact that Jamie wrote all the music and Billy wrote all the lyrics, Greg has pocketed every cent from the discography sales -at least to my knowledge. The last official word I had in 2005 or so was that it he had profited over $20k. I am not saying I am due much of that - I only played bass on the last seven inch and on most of the tours, but to have Greg reap all the rewards is pretty ridiculous.
(question #11 preface) I think often about the word "screamo", as it has so many connotations. From what I've seen, screamo started being thrown around to describe music in the late 90s early 2000s once people started trying to classify this sound coming out of Philly and the surrounding area, as well as parts of Europe. Although the bands considered it hardcore, the sound, at least to me, was a refined blast of controlled chaos mixed with pretty parts and screaming. Neil Perry, Off Minor, Saetia, Orchid, Joshua Fit For Battle, Gospel, Ampere, Funeral Diner, City of Caterpillar, Kodan Armada, You and I, The Fiction, Eyes of Verotika, Storm the Bastille, Welcome the Plague Year, The Now...etc. were certainly a breed of punk/hardcore/emo/grind/metal that all fell into a similar framework. So many reviews at the time used the term that I started using it because I didn't know what else to call it. Later on, in the late 2000s, a new generation started to adopt the same term for gothy/mall/pop/nu-metal. Although I never liked the term "screamo", this "nu-screamo" taints what I consider to have a fucking fantastic band manifest. In general, it seems "nu-screamo" bands are about putting on a show and looking cool, while "screamo" bands were about community and diy ethics.
11) You were obviously experienced the term "screamo" from a different perspective. Do tell.
As far as I am concerned, it is all some form of hardcore/punk. I identify as a punk/hardcore kid (though "kid" is admittedly quite a stretch these days, no matter how youthful I may feel). There are so many genre and sub-genre names for what I look at as the same thing. I honestly never saw much importance in those kinds of labels and even the bands you listed in the preface I think sound worlds apart in many ways. Despite the fact that I know almost all of them personally and many of them were friends and often played together, trying to cram them all into some genre seems a bit ridiculous.
12) What is your impression of the lasting legacy, if I may call it that, of Level Plane Records? Before your story (and another one I heard) I had what I thought to be an everlasting and nearly immaculate memory of a label that I sung praises about until people told me shut it already. I feel conflicted!
It seems more often than not, the indie/"diy" labels are just as shitty as the big ones. While I believe many of them, including Level Plane, started with an honest interest in putting out records the label cared about, as the amount of money one often dumps into these projects and time wasted chasing after distributors and bands to pay for them rack up, ideals tend go away rather quickly.
In hindsight, I think Level Plane is in the ranks of many indie labels who put out a few great records and many mediocre ones. It probably also ranks among the scores of indie labels who ripped people off - specifically by repressing records and not paying the bands anything for it.
13) What bands are you listening to nowadays that you think people take a chance on and listen to? Where do you find out about new music?
Admittedly, I'm not the most in touch. Unless I record it or one of my bands plays a show with someone cool, my best source is my bandmate, Andreas, who has turned me onto some cool stuff.
As for newer things I'm into - I really enjoy a couple records I was lucky to work on this year - Deep Pockets "You Feel Shame" and Worriers "Cruel Optimist". Sickoids are one of my favorites, as well. Sadly, they all moved away from Philly so it seems unlikely I’ll get to work with them again. HIRS are also fucking amazing and Capacities are always great to see live and in the studio.
Otherwise, I listen to a lot of Superchunk and Neurosis these days. For more DIY stuff, Masakari and Heartless are a couple favorites. That first Medications LP has been playing a lot for me these days - that drummer made me wanna break my hands.
14) What were OFF MINOR's influences? How did they play into the band's sound?
I would be full of shit if I didn't say the majority of Off Minor's sound was created by Jamie. I know he loves a lot of jazz, hence some weird time signatures/changes, etc. Monk (of course), Kenny Burrell I remember to be favorites of his. As former punk/hc stuff, his guitar stuff was very shaped by Ethel Meserve - lots of pull offs, odd times, etc. He was also a big fan of German hardcore for a stretch (Dawnbreed, most notably), Swallowing Shit, Left for Dead. He also loved Discordance Axis. The guy had pretty broad musical tastes, really.
As for my own playing, I have always been a huge Vin Novara fan (1.6 band, The Crownhate Ruin), though my own playing is nowhere near up to his caliber. I mostly did my best to play to Jamie or the bass lines he wrote.
15) Is there anything else you'd like to say about Off Minor? Regarding the guys, touring, recording, favourite songs and/or best memories? I read Jamie's blog and how the band ended left me baffled and a little sad. Have you really not spoken in years?
I am really proud of all that we did. That band was a huge part of my life and is a big reason I know so many people that are still very important to me. It shaped me tremendously as an individual and as a musician. I sunk the greater part of my energies and resources into that band for most of our decade-long existence. Playing those songs and touring like we did remains one of my most treasured and satisfying accomplishments. Most music I have played since doesn't come close to what it felt like playing those songs. I absolutely loved the music Jamie wrote and I certainly miss playing music with him. We got to explore parts of the world I never dreamed I would see, never mind play a show in.
However, these were not without their costs. Jamie and I were very close friends for a very long time, but as the band wore on, we drifted to the point that I don't even think we were friends for the last few years. Traveling as much as we did, and as a three piece, got harder as that drift increased. I think probably two or three weeks into our final tour, I had made up my mind that I had given up on our band and our friendship. He can be a very cruel and irrational person sometimes, more so on tour, and that made my experience, especially on our final tour, very difficult.
In hindsight, I know I was not without my own issues. I know I pushed us to do a lot and some very difficult things, certainly. I literally bankrupted myself with some of the decisions I made. And I certainly destroyed some of my own personal relationships in the process. I still do not think I would trade the things we got to do for anything, though I do wish I had done some things differently.
As for best memories, there are so many. Every time I think of one, I remember two more. Here are a few: our day in Tasmania with Tom and Lex on that last Australian tour where we played on a stage built into an old quarry and then drove up to Mount Wellington the next morning; our relaxing day in Mallorca during our last European tour, going swimming at a beautiful and empty beach; the whole first Australian tour meeting so many amazing friends and playing some amazing shows; getting to meet my Indonesian friend, Ari, after so many years of emails back and forth; showing up to our show in Lyon on our first European tour six hours late to find so many people waiting and continuing to play when the bartender turned off the power. We weren't lacking in crazy stories either - like the squat in Krakow that had lost its pet tarantula in the apartment - they found it when it bit someone's foot. Or when we played in a freezing car park via generator in a town in New Zealand I'm forgetting the name of.
As for favorite songs, I'd have to say Everything Explicit, though I'm probably most proud of some of the drum stuff in Neologist. I still love some of our earlier material, but after playing them hundreds of times, they aren't as exciting as the newer material, really.
16) Have you struggled with your place in the musical world? Do you struggle with self-confidence when playing? What is your proudest achievement? After a band breakup, what drives you to start another?
I think mostly I am struggling to remain relevant in the world of DIY music. When I was 22 and booking shows at the only real DIY venue in New York at the time and playing in a marginally popular band, it was pretty easy. But many years later, playing in a band as a person with a serious job and some grown up responsibilities mostly with people in similar situations, it is certainly a lot harder than it used to be. I have been trying to balance my life a little better than I once did and with that shift, I have made some sacrifices. But those sacrifices have afforded me other opportunities.
As to my own playing, I am pretty confident. I mean, no matter what your skill level, someone is always better than you. But I still get a lot of compliments about my playing and that is very flattering, though I know I'm often more critical of my own playing - and I know this is annoying.
As for my proudest achievement, it would probably be that last crazy Off Minor world tour we did.
I will play music until I die. If one band breaks up, I will always form another. I cannot imagine my life without it. Music is not just one thing to me - it makes up so many parts of my life - my friends, my community, my ideals and politics, my way of expressing myself and relieving stress and just generally feeling that I belong in the world. Being in a band (or several) is a natural extension of that. It is how I am a part of this.
17) Do you have any personal goals for the next year? 10 years? Lifelong goals?
I do hope that one of my bands (current or to be) will manage to tour Europe and maybe Australia one more time (not consecutively). Those are just things I would like to do one more time - preferably with a band full of people I am getting along with.
Aside from that, I do hope to someday have my studio in a stand-alone facility, where I'm not constantly stressing over new neighbors and scheduling conflicts - or commuting many miles to get there.
In the short term, I just want to get some things fixed in the house I bought last year - just a tiny place in south Philly, nothing flashy. Oh and I agreed to run the Philly marathon this year with Kev and our dad. Kevin has actually completed two before.
18) My friend and I are starting a band and are finding it extremely difficult to find drummers. Have you felt there is one instrument that is generally lacking in area or scene? Have you felt "in demand" at times?
That was probably my reason for choosing drums. I knew a million guitarists when I was in high school and most guitarists can handle a bass. I figured if I played drums, I would probably always be in a band, and that has served pretty true. I haven't been in less than one active band in many years.
19) Can you guide us chronologically through your musical life?
Oh man. My first ever band played one show and was pretty awful. We were called the Gym Teachers and were very weird - our principal song writer was really into Zappa, but was still a punk. We literally didn't have a drummer, so I bought a used drum set for Kevin, my brother, to play drums for our booked show - this would later become the kit I learned on. I learned pretty late - started at 17. I was a guitarist in this band, and the lone show we played was with a lame jam band that was named after their equipment.
I started playing drums and was pretty terrible for a long time. My brother wanted to sing and our friend, Bill, played guitar. We went through a couple bassists until we managed a somewhat stable lineup. We were called God Awful. We recorded and released a 7" that every once in a while someone finds and posts on line. We toured the east coast in 1998 and it was a pretty serious disaster - lots of days off, van breakdowns, etc. I joined Saetia that same summer. We actually toured that winter with Saetia, You and I and Racebannon. We certainly didn't fit on those shows at all, but we played all right. We dissolved shortly after that tour and Kev and Bill started playing in a band called Life Detecting Coffins.
The following summer, I was approached by my friend, Adam, about playing drums in a band that became Books Lie. Shortly after we started rehearsing, Saetia broke up, and Off Minor started immediately after.
I was in Books Lie for a couple years and quit mostly because we were not going in a direction I was particularly interested in, and partially because I was not getting along with someone at the time. As Off Minor continued, I did some fill in tour work - I played drums for This Machine Kills on a full US tour and for Yaphet Kotto for a tour with Envy in Japan - that was pretty sweet.
Shortly after all of that, I moved to Philly, commuting back to New York to record (my studio was still there) and write with Off Minor. At the time, I started playing with Mike and Andrew from Kill the Man Who Questions, but I wasn't around much, so they found another drummer and formed Amateur Party. A couple years later, I would join Amateur Party.
Oh and I joined a sorta pop-punk band from the Lehigh Valley called Yo Man Go. I actually agreed to be in the band only if they'd change their name, but it just never happened. We recorded a 7" and did a midwest tour with Bridge and Tunnel.
After many years, Off Minor called it quits. Amateur Party still limped along though McKee moved to the west coast. We played a last show at the Fest a couple years ago. We were unrehearsed and not great, sadly.
Somewhere in there, I started playing in a hardcore band with Jordan from Yo Man Go and Joe and Beau from Kill the Man called Pink Coffins. We did a short midwest tour and put out a hurriedly done one sided 12" and broke up immediately after that. Joe, Jordan and I started playing again that fall in War Emblem, who are still going.
Kev and I started playing in Bore War in 2010 but haven't done a whole lot, admittedly.
I played in a couple projects with Jeff from Bridge and Tunnel, but our latest (Ordinary Lives) should be playing out and recording soon. It's very much in an early Baroness/Torche vein.
*What is your favourite book?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Open Veins of Latin America
I’m not a huge TV guy but Arrested Development was brilliant, love Parks and Rec and Breaking Bad.
The Big Lebowski. I love Terry Gilliam as well.
Hmmm... been probably 25 years since I paid attention, but I used to love Wolverine.
I probably cannot name a single professional athlete and stopped paying attention sometime in the early 90s. I play soccer sometimes.
Vegan biscuits and gravy.
Hmmm... I dunno. Maybe what we always referred to as "The French Song" - the first song on the LP, although Postlapsaria was also pretty cool but we never played it. I haven't listened in many many years.
*OFF MINOR song?
Probably Everything Explicit. I think it best shows our range and was definitely one of the best developed songs by the end of the band. It was fun to play, also.
Regarding live shows:
*best show you've ever been to?
Many Fugazi shows would be up there - most notably probably at the Palladium in 1997; also Sleepytime Trio and Hose Got Cable at Princeton in 1999.
*band you would like to go back in a time machine to see?
Probably Black Flag in '82 or '83. Minor Threat would be up there, also. I would go to the reaches of the earth to see Fugazi live again, as well. No band ever made me so excited about music before or since
What is/are your:
*top records of 2013?
Worriers - cruel optimist
Iron Lung - white glove test
No Statik - unity and fragmentation
Sickoids - no home
Deep Heat - new design
Capacities - there is no neutral
*most cherished physical record?
I'm not terribly sentimental about records, honestly. I mean, there are a million I was proud to be involved in. Maybe Ten Grand's comprehensive list. Some of my all-time favorite people and the first record I put out myself (I had split with Level Plane at the time, but we still stuck the logo on there).
*top 10: records of all time?
pretty hard to narrow down, but without thinking about it too much:
Fugazi - In On the Kill Taker
Nation Of Ulysses - Plays Pretty for Baby
Lungfish - Artificial Horizon
Neurosis - Times of Grace
His Hero Is Gone - Monuments to Thieves
Converge - Jane Doe
Superchunk - Here's Where the Strings Come In
Drive Like Jehu - Yank Crime
Burned Up Bled Dry - Cloned Slaves for Slaves
Nada Surf - Let Go