Anthony Pappalardo: Is there life after edge break?

Anthony Pap­palardo a fait énor­mé­ment de trucs dans sa vie. Il a com­mencé par s’intéresser au skate (ne pas le con­fon­dre avec le skater pro du même nom) et au hardcore/punk dans le Boston de la fin des années 80. D’un point de vue psycho-géographique, un par­cours presque typ­ique pour un ado améri­cain. Des années 90 à 2000, il a joué de la gui­tare dans une dizaine de groupes punk, hard­core, emo, post-punk, shoegaze et power pop qui n’ont jamais réelle­ment décollé. Les deux plus impor­tants: Ten Yard Fight et In My Eyes. Depuis, Anthony est devenu jour­nal­iste, a sorti le meilleur livre jamais écrit sur le hard­core (Radio Silence) et le meilleur livre jamais écrit sur l’adolescence (Live… Sub­ur­bia!). Et en pré­pare un troisième. Lisez son inter­view fleuve en français sur NOISEY ou la ver­sion orig­i­nale ci-dessous.


/// ENGLISH VERSION \\\

First, are you still in touch with your teenage friends?
A lot of my friends grow­ing up stayed in New Eng­land and have fam­i­lies now, which is a lot dif­fer­ent than liv­ing alone in New York City. Still, I keep in touch with peo­ple and a ton of my friends from Boston moved to New York. The nucleus of peo­ple that were hang­ing out in Boston in the mid-late 90s became really close and we’re always work­ing on projects together, going to wed­dings, sport­ing events, shows, bars, what­ever. It’s really been amaz­ing to watch peo­ple grow and achieve things. I never would have thought my friends would go on to be busi­ness own­ers, suc­cess­ful book­ing agents, label own­ers, TV pro­duc­ers, writ­ers, and artists, but not because I thought they were retards, because we were all doing the dumb­est shit pos­si­ble in Boston to pass the time. Why on earth would we pay some­one to jump off a bridge into a pond with scum float­ing on it, or why did we hang out on New­bury Street in lawn chairs? I really can’t answer that, but I see those peo­ple almost every day here in NY.

Where do you live by now ?
I left Boston for New York City in 2002 and have been in Man­hat­tan or Brook­lyn since then. I’m focus­ing on writ­ing another book, con­tribut­ing to sev­eral web­sites includ­ing ESPN, writ­ing and record­ing music, and try­ing to not get exhausted because I never stop. There’s not much time for me to relax and that’s how I like it, in the sum­mer I can be at the beach in about 40 min­utes so I don’t stress on need­ing a vaca­tion or what­ever. You have to have a lot of hus­tles here in NYC.

You played in two of the most influ­en­tial bands of the 90’s straight edge revival, Ten Yard Fight & In My Eyes. Tell me about this time.
One thing I want to be clear–and mem­bers of both bands would agree–is that TYF or IME weren’t about reviv­ing any­thing. That phrase always made me think of a bunch of young straight edge kids hov­er­ing over some old school guys corpse giv­ing him mouth-to-mouth hop­ing to keep some­thing alive that isn’t theirs.

To give you some con­text, around the time my friend Al and I had the idea for TYF in 1992/3 Mouth­piece was really the only “tra­di­tional” sound­ing straight edge band around. A lot of the bands play­ing were com­prised of peo­ple a few years older than me that were expand­ing the sounds of hard­core, many of them had played in influ­en­tial bands and were look­ing to do some­thing new. We were focused on doing some­thing that drew from the sounds early sounds that inspired us rather than push a sound for­ward. Some of us had played in bands that sounded heav­ier, more melodic, or not hard­core at all and we just saw a win­dow to try something.

Around this time, a lot of Boston HC bands that were influ­en­tial to us, and instru­men­tal in keep­ing BHC going had bro­ken up or weren’t that active. We remem­bered the energy of see­ing Eye for An Eye, Wreck­ing Crew, or King­pin. You also had newer bands like Dive who were a blaz­ing hard­core band that played with so many dif­fer­ent types of bands, they sort of had their toes in dif­fer­ent scenes and one that was emerg­ing was a DIY scene that was very much a reac­tion to the big ticket HC shows and the vio­lence that came along with them. Ini­tially, it was really excit­ing to see Heroin, Grey­house, Born Against, or even World Col­lide in really small venues, but as it expanded to bands that seemed to be more inter­ested in rhetoric or image, it started to mimic the uni­for­mity of the late 80s straight edge scene. Peo­ple said they were react­ing to that scene, but in a lot of ways they were doing the same thing–maybe it was emu­lat­ing Fugazi, Down­cast, or Rorschach–the look and sound was just dif­fer­ent. Now, I’m not fin­ger­ing any band as bor­ing, not gen­uine, or any­thing as I like a ton of mid-90s bands, but a bunch of us wanted an alter­na­tive: some­thing fun, not overly polit­i­cal, and real to us. I wasn’t a his­tory major, I didn’t want to spew out songs that sounded like edi­to­ri­als, we just wanted to have fun so we did.

TYF was a bit closer to early BHC in the begin­ning, at times try­ing to chan­nel DYS, but that soon changed as we played together more often. With IME, there was a very delib­er­ate push to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, maybe the struc­tures of the songs were tra­di­tional straight edge hard­core, but I think we injected enough per­son­al­ity with the pre­sen­ta­tion and sound of the songs. When some­one says we were a YOT rip off or some­thing I have to laugh, lis­ten to Noth­ing to Hide and tell me that sounds any­thing like YOT. I always thought the Turn­ing Point LP was the per­fect model for an SXE album with a lot of depth and we aspired to take cues from those songs while keep­ing them fast and heavy. Maybe it worked, maybe not, but I know that TYF went from play­ing mixed bill shows–often times to less than 30 people–to all local band hard­core bills to hun­dreds in a very short time.

Are you still straight edge ? Does it still mean the same to you?
I’m not so it doesn’t. There’s no real answer to this because any­one who is still straight edge is already cring­ing at read­ing my answer, and any­one who isn’t is wait­ing for me to echo their thoughts. It’s all really personal–that was a heavy, intense, and focused part of my life–but I really felt a divide in my life where I could just be straight edge to have an iden­tity or be straight edge because I didn’t want to drink or do drugs. I wanted my own iden­tity, friends based on my worth to them as a per­son not because we both shared a value sys­tem or view. I really wanted and needed that at one point in my life, but then I just wanted to expe­ri­ence more. I always had an eclec­tic group of friends and spent plenty of times doing any­thing from going to book read­ings to hang­ing out in bars with peo­ple that inspired me when I was straight edge. I knew I had to fol­low my gut and just take in more and have less bound­aries. Yeah, I could have explored and con­tin­ued to not drink etc., but I didn’t want to. So yeah, I dunno that part of my life has the same weight it always had to me and that’s amaz­ing, I’m just not.

Could you intro­duce the other bands you played or was inv­oled with. It seems you can’t live with­out play­ing music.
I suck at liv­ing with­out play­ing music, here’s a run­down of the bands I’ve played in as best I can remember.

Recy­cled Reli­gion — I met some punkers in high school that were older than me and they con­vinced me to join their poorly named band. We cov­ered “When the Shit Hits the Fan” and did a punk ver­sion of the “Mun­sters Theme Song.”

Rea­son to Change — When I met John LaCroix he was play­ing in a pop­u­lar local hard­core band called the Cir­cus Pup­pies. They were a bunch of high school friends that were all really unique peo­ple that con­verged in this band that–like many bands from the burbs–had trou­ble crack­ing into the Boston scene. John wanted to start a hard­core band that was closer to what he envi­sioned so we started Rea­son to Change. We played our first show with 411, Said and Done, and Vision… well not Vision because they cancelled.

After RTS I tried to do a few things that never worked, I filled in for John’s next band Trees With­out Leaves, and started this power pop band in col­lege that never got off the ground. Shortly after John and I revis­ited the idea of doing TYF that we had with our friend Al in high school.

Ten Yard Fight kicked me out and three months later the In My Eyes demo came out. This was a good thing, because the scene now had another band, soon enough more bands were sprout­ing up and the scene was thriv­ing. I ended up fill­ing in for Fast­break, Right Brigade, Scab Punch, and then Damian and I started a post punk band in 1998 or so called The Pace. I think I wanted us to sound like Mis­sion of Burma, but I’m not sure that really happened.

After IME I started a band with every­one in Fast­break minus Pat called Around the World. In my head we were going to sound like Ride, but we cer­tainly didn’t. We worked really hard to write a core of songs, but the record­ings never worked out though the live record­ing I have is actu­ally spot on to what I envi­sioned. I wasn’t able to com­mu­ni­cate how I wanted the vocals buried and effected and instead it was a lit­tle to tra­di­tional sound­ing aka FAIL. That’s my fault though, live I’d have the sound­man make sure there was some reverb on my vocals and they were loud in the mon­i­tor but low in the mix so I didn’t have to “sing out” as much and keep things more breathy. That band not work­ing was hard, as we put a lot of time into it, but we also weren’t will­ing to play with the kind of main­stream emo bands that were get­ting big, so we were rel­e­gated to some other world where noth­ing really hap­pens. That was def­i­nitely me being stub­born, because in my head I wanted to play with all like fuck­ing Tor­toise or Yo La Tengo and I didn’t think the path to that was open­ing for the Juliana The­ory or some­thing. Yeah… just totally ridicu­lous and dumb, but that’s part of play­ing music, you’re part idiot for even try­ing it.

So, I camped out with my gui­tar, wrote new stuff and tried to do a bunch of other things that didn’t work out, then White Trash Rob asked me to try out for Sin­ners and Saints. That really sur­prised me as they had quite a buzz at the time, label inter­est, and I didn’t know Rob well. I ended up spend­ing some of the best times I’ve ever had in a band with Rob and Mark Lind and even though the band didn’t go where I thought it would, it was one of the most reward­ing expe­ri­ences I’ve ever had as a per­son, not just play­ing music.

When I moved to NYC I started play­ing with Mark Ryan and Dean Bal­tulo­nis in Steady Roo­sevelt which became Get On, Get On and later For­eign Islands. Being able to play with them was incred­i­ble, we wrote some really fun songs, but ulti­mately it was putting a strain on my per­sonal life so I quit, which was super fuck­ing dumb.

Around this time I wanted to do a hard­core band again, some­thing that sounded like Swiz eat­ing pizza with Ver­bal Assault so Get Down started. For a few years my friend Erik and I recorded a ton of songs as Broth­ers and Sys­tems, that didn’t work… then I wrote the first batch of Ital­ian Horn songs, and released a 12” on Dais Records last year. That’s a really big deal for me as it was amaz­ing for Ryan & Gibby at Dais to give me that oppor­tu­nity and Bob Pol­lard from Guided by Voices did the cover art which is like hav­ing god name you.

Do you think hard­core is a pass­ing phase ? Do you imag­ine play­ing some In my Eyes reunion show in 2027 to cel­e­brate the ’97 rebirth of hard­core ?
At one finite point in time hard­core was a term that applied to a few hun­dred bands in the world that was very spe­cific yet all the bands were unique. Hard­core now means some­thing dif­fer­ent depend­ing on who you say it to. If you’re 16-years-old see­ing Alert, the world hard­core means some­thing totally dif­fer­ent than the 36-year-old who paid 30 dol­lars plus a ser­vice fee to see a reunion show in a club. There’s also the mys­te­ri­ous guy in a Brook­lyn loft who just saw a band that broke up already but released a tape on Youth Attack and a dude who sold a bunch of shit on eBay to finance his trip to Chaos in Tejas. Hard­core has always meant some­thing dif­fer­ent to the indi­vid­ual, it just so hap­pens there are gen­er­a­tions of indi­vid­u­als now instead of a few thou­sand peo­ple who were roughly five years apart in age.

If some­one asks me to play an IME reunion show in 2027, I’d politely decline… assum­ing I’m alive to do so. This last go round was rad, but that’s enough for IME now.

Regard­ing guys com­ing from hard­core like Gibby Miller, Wes­ley Eisold or Ryan George whose now doing industrial/techno stuff, do you feel they’re oppor­tunis­tic ? Is it a last­ing trend ?
Hardcore–at least my expe­ri­ences start­ing in the late-80s–is a social club and cul­ture, the music is just a com­po­nent its entirety. Know­ing Gibby and Wes, they were peo­ple attracted by the music, but pulled in by the com­mu­nity. You make new friends, have a place to belong, in a way it’s like going to AA meetings–not every­one there likes the same things, but they’re going for the same rea­son. Gibby and Wes have always liked more than hard­core and lis­tened to it before they started bands… I mean look at the pho­tos of their bands from the late 90s and early ‘00s, they’re wear­ing Sis­ters of Mercy, Death in June, and other shirts of non-HC bands.

Cre­at­ing music is very per­sonal and takes a lot of work, it’s also not a very sus­tain­able idea. If you’re going to be a musi­cian in an age where 200 new bands started while you’ve been read­ing my answer, you are in a very tough place and it’s not easy to make enough. I don’t think any of the peo­ple you men­tioned had any inten­tion other than to make the music they loved. No dif­fer­ent than when all the NYHC bands broke up and started post hard­core bands, or the Dischord bands explored new sounds. That’s just evolv­ing. In the his­tory of hard­core, there’s really only been A band, in Sick of It All, who stuck around and con­tinue to this day, but they even dab­bled in other sounds on their sec­ond LP and toured with metal bands to expand their audience.

What’s funny to me is that no one seems to care when some guys from an indie band start a hard­core band, no one sees that as oppor­tunis­tic, but instead it’s “cool.”

How did you expe­ri­ence the sonic muta­tion of skate­board­ing that went from hardcore/punk to hip hop dur­ing the 90’s ?
It needed to hap­pen. Punk and Hard­core were kind of stale at the time and the big­ger fac­tor is that skate­board­ing was get­ting more diverse, big­ger, and more urban. If you look at skateboarding’s lin­eage, it’s not the whitest sport ever actu­ally, but it always had that punk asso­ci­a­tion and the cul­ture around it was a big homog­e­nized. I liked that a new influ­ence came in because it made skate­board­ing big­ger. What’s fucked up to me is that racism and homo­pho­bia are still accepted in skate­board­ing. There are Pros who have called black skaters nig­gers and they still have decks and shoes with their names on them. Yeah, I under­stand that every­one makes mis­takes, but it’s pretty gross for a shoe com­pany to reward a grown man for being igno­rant while there are some amaz­ing skaters–of every background–who work hard as fuck who aren’t get­ting a shoe or even a deck.

At one point in the 90s it did get a bit monot­o­nous that every skate video had some b-level rap sound­track, but that’s also because a lot of 90s rap sucked and it was just as annoy­ing as an 80s video sound­track of 20 punk bands that sounded identical.

Imag­ine being a kid who lis­tened to rap in the 80s because that was their knowl­edge of music and hav­ing to sit through Speed Freaks, espe­cially those bad Sac­cha­rine Trust songs with sax­o­phone and shit… that’s tor­ture! Thank god things are more var­ied now.

One of the most epic skaters of all time rode to a John Coltrane song in arguably the great­est skate­board video part ever filmed. Imag­ine if the Gonz rode to C.O.C. in that part? It would have been fucked!

Since the release of Amer­i­can Hard­core by Steven Blush in 2001, a ton of books and doc­u­men­taries have been out, it seems, as in a lot of other cul­tural fields, hard­core is turn­ing into a museum.
I have a pas­sion for see­ing things doc­u­mented and archive with respect and care. We have an oblig­a­tion to the things we love to pre­serve them oth­er­wise they get skewed. A per­fect exam­ple is when I see a song uploaded to YouTube and the band name is spelled incor­rectly and the wrong year is listed, I just cringe. All that info should be out there and cataloged.

I think “Radio Silence” is the best book ever made on hard­core. Besides, bee­ing pub­lished by MTV Press must have made some guys cringe…
No one thinks I’m a sell­out because they looked at the final prod­uct and knew it was com­ing from a real place. There were a few skep­tics, a few shitty emails, but I don’t give a fuck. None of those kooks have done a book or taken on a project so I’m not too con­cerned. Ulti­mately MTV was a vehi­cle to do some­thing very impor­tant to me and a lot of peo­ple and they 100% sup­ported the project. Our edi­tor Jacob Hoye was instru­men­tal in mak­ing the book flow and tell a story, so thank MTV for that !

You used to write for VICE mag­a­zine, that amongst oth­ers, refers to most exist­ing sub­cul­tures and kinda made obso­lete the old notion of “under­ground”.
VICE is what VICE is. Hon­estly, if you look at the con­tent on the site now, it’s much more main­stream… fuck they debuted a Wall­flow­ers videos and inter­viewed Tori Amos. Early on, you had guys like Gavin putting punk and hard­core con­tent in the mag­a­zine because he likes punk and hard­core. I thought that was rad because other media out­lets were shun­ning punk and hard­core and treat­ing it as juve­nile. VICE were instru­men­tal in say­ing, “Fuck you pre­ten­tious ass­holes, Sub­hu­mans rule.” You have to think of it in that con­text. I don’t think any­thing in VICE or on the site is a sub­cul­ture really, in fact the term sub­cul­ture is kind of out of date because it now refers to cul­tures that are quite vis­i­ble and documented.

Being a “hard­core jour­nal­ist” must be touchy some days…
Sure, some­times peo­ple are like, “Hey man, why are you doing this, there’s already books like Amer­i­can Hard­core” or “You’re just try­ing to cash in on OUR scene.” That’s totally cool, I don’t give a fuck and will do what­ever I want any­way, so it’s not a big deal when you get an occa­sional detrac­tor. What I never under­stood is this weird men­tal­ity that things shouldn’t be doc­u­mented, there’s a whole cul­ture that existed with barely any doc­u­men­ta­tion that remains and it should be cat­a­loged. Besides, imag­ine if you could only have one book on a topic? Just like a book called “Space” or one called “Viet­nam.” That’s ridiculous.

What do you think of the cur­rent DIY scene ? Penny Rim­baud is very hard on it. For exam­ple, he tells the new anar­cho punk is grillz rap, ahah.
I’m not inter­ested in what old peo­ple think of any­thing, and by the DIY stan­dard today, at 38, I’m old. Who cares what rich peo­ple like David Byrne and Patti Smith think about the “strug­gle of being an artists in New York” now. Fuck that, they can afford to live any­where they want. Why would I care about their opin­ions that rent is dri­ving cre­ativ­ity out of New York. That’s part of the cre­ative drive, to sur­vive and make art no mat­ter what the strug­gle is. I’d argue that they were spoiled because NYC was so cheap then. Who cares if it was “more dan­ger­ous,” all they had to do was wran­gle a hun­dred dol­lars a month to live down­town and then play mediocre music at CBGB, before becom­ing stars. Every­one is so delu­sional about DIY. No one is actu­ally DIY. It’s impos­si­ble. Did Ian MacK­aye build the Dischord house and power it with solar pan­els? Did the records arrive at your house by car­rier pigeon? No, they got to you via the US Postal service.

I’m not inter­ested in DIY, I’m invested in the idea of doing what I want. It’s why I chose to leave a steady job to get more out of life, it’s why I don’t care about hav­ing a degree in art and choose to pur­sue writ­ing, and it’s why I don’t ever feel intim­i­dated by any­thing. DIY to me isn’t pick­ing a path when you’re 16 years old and being a slave to it. That’s not a shot at any­one at all, I’m just say­ing that I’d rather have a core of ideals and evolve with them, not worry about every­one else’s per­cep­tions and rules.

Is every­thing main­stream since every­body has an inter­net con­nec­tion ?
That’s pretty accu­rate and also OK. When I got into punk and skate­board­ing, I wanted access to it. I didn’t get into those worlds because I was a thrill seeker, I gen­uinely iden­ti­fied with them. Sure, there was some­thing roman­tic about find­ing a phys­i­cal record in an actual store, or build­ing your own ramp. But I’m sure I’d have done that if I was born in 1995, not 1975, as the actual cul­tures excited me, not their accessibility.

So, how did you team with Max G Mor­ton for the “Live…Suburbia!” book ?
Max asked me to do a book read­ing at the Brass City Tat­too shop. I didn’t have a new book yet and read­ing from Radio Silence seemed a lit­tle crazy, so I did a slideshow and talk based on the Me, You, Youth Crew chap­ter that ended up in Live… Sub­ur­bia! I was already a huge fan of Max’s work, and as we talked about the event in an empty Con­necti­cut park­ing lot, we hatched the idea. We didn’t feel like two men in our 30s in a park­ing lot in the sub­urbs talk­ing about life, it felt time­less and that’s some­thing many Amer­i­can kids share.

What was this «park­ing lec­ture» with Max about ?
Max G. Mor­ton arranged for a read­ing at Brass City Tat­too and I did a mul­ti­me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion called “Me, You, Youth Crew.” (it’s on Vimeo and YouTube) Since the shop was located in Con­necti­cut, I thought it would be a good tie in to talk about grow­ing up and find­ing Youth of Today–who were orig­i­nally from there of course–and how I even­tu­ally started going there for shows. I spent so much of my youth hang­ing out in park­ing lots talk­ing, the idea was to do a talk, essen­tially in a park­ing lot in sub­ur­ban Con­necti­cut, about hard­core, grow­ing up, and how a sim­ple band can make a huge impression.

A con­tem­po­rary french essay­ist said this: “In the era of youth cul­ture, it is nec­es­sary to recall a basic com­moness: youth has never been a class. It is a time of life, that became a mar­ket.“
Sadly, youth is the eas­i­est thing to cap­i­tal­ize on from sug­ary cere­als to shitty plas­tic toys. You could argue that with my books I profit from the youth mar­ket, unfor­tu­nately I WISH that were true. The peo­ple read­ing the books I work on are adults, but the con­tent is aimed at giv­ing a con­text to some very impor­tant moments in Amer­i­can his­tory to those who weren’t there for it. There’s a com­mon­al­ity that all kids who pick up a skate­board or Minor Threat record share no mat­ter what year it is. We could all learn from each other, unfor­tu­nately my books tend to appeal to older folks.

Last one: What do you think of the new Black Flag album cover !
The pur­pose of cover art is to illus­trate the actual music on the album–a pre­view of what it sounds like, entic­ing you to buy it. With what lit­tle I’ve heard of the album, I feel like that shitty cover is an accu­rate reflec­tion on Ginn’s “Black Flag” circa 2013.

Any addi­tional words dude ?
Do shit, seri­ously any­thing. There’s noth­ing worse than some­one who talks your ear off about this “amaz­ing” idea they have, but never does it. If it sucks, do some­thing else. It’s that sim­ple.

1 Commentaire

  1. Mr P.

    Je ne savais pas que A. Pap­palardo avait “breaké”. La “police de la scéne” a-t-elle pris des mesures dis­ci­plinaires ? Peut-on encore écouter Ten Yard Fight ou In My Eyes sans être inquiété ou subir de menaces ?

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