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.


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 ?