Before launching into the interview, I have a funny story related to how I got into This Is Hell. I actually know your old drummer, Dan, through a guy I went to college with in Pennsylvania named Rick, too.
Yeah Dan rules. We know his friend Rick loosely too. They're both from out east on Long Island and everyone from out east Long Island is crazy.
Now onto the actual meat of the interview! Thank you for taking the time to speak with Punknews.org, given that you guys seem to be touring constantly and just had a new record come out. How are you feeling after the release of Black Mass?
I'm way siked on it. We've been playing a bunch of new songs live every night and its adding to the energy of the show a ton. We incited a revolt against the barricade last night during a new song. Kids went nuts, disregarded "security" and shook the barrier until it came loose, shoved it to the front of the stage and then got up on stage to dive and thrash with us. The energy of the new shit is undeniable. Hopefully, of course, as people pick up the record the actual knowledge of the songs increases, but for now I'm happy with the energy for the new stuff.
Stylistically, this record seems to continue the trajectory of past LPs and EPs, exploring more of the band's "metal" tendencies with intricate, yet melodic guitar work. I even heard an acoustic guitar solo in parts - it reminded me of my favorite moments on At the Gates and early Metallica albums. What, in your opinion, encourage the band to explore outside the strict confines of the "loud and fast" hardcore formula?
There are a few factors that contribute to that. First and foremost, we listen to music outside of just hardcore. I believe everyone listens to music outside of just one genre; with us though we've never been afraid to explore that. We've never been afraid to explore a lot of things to be honest. We've never played it safe as a band. It's something that has gotten us shit over the years from, "cooler than you" people and, "internet hardcore experts" but fuck those poseurs. I love Metallica and Slayer so I'm not gonna shy away from those influences if they are shining through on what I write even though that may not be the current trend in hardcore. Sundowning was heavily Queensryche influenced but that band was so under hardcore kids' radar at the time that it was never an issue, so it was ok to like that record. We've always toured with bands outside of the safe zone of hardcore tour packages. The more we do that, the less hardcore bands want anything to do with us. Funny, all these hardcore bands now are always saying, "I wanna do what you guys do/did... I wanna tour with different types of bands!" If it's "cool bands" it's ok, if we do it we get a backlash. It's interesting how things work. Well, mildly interesting. Cool guy attitudes can only hold my attention for so long. I'm more interested in watching Cliff 'Em All over and over.
Lyrically also the new record mixes the personal and broader topics, like politics and social ills. How do you guys go about writing lyrics for records and what inspires you most?
Well, this record was a little different than the previous ones. As usual, we finished all or most of the music before getting started on lyrics, but what was different this time was the fact that we straight up had time off on this record to write and get it completed in one stretch of time as opposed to making use of 2 weeks off from tour here, 10 days there and then another 2 weeks etcetera. That changed the point of view for me a lot. I wasn't dealing with constant band issues and JUST touring life. I was able to experience things outside of my, "I'm a guitar player in a band" bubble and then write about them. My failed search for employment, the soaking in of what the media was throwing in our faces for a few months, the day to day life in my heavily Hispanic populated area, the conversations I've had and witnessed from people living life in my area, my views on how this country is being run etc. All these things hit me in a different way and inspired the majority of the album. I'm trying to make sure I exist outside of the "band guy" bubble that people get so easily sucked into. There is much more going on in the world than, "cool guy band releases new radical record that sings about the streets and beating people up," and I think it's important to give off more than that through this podium we're afforded by being in a band and recording records. Even if a very, very small group chooses to listen to us, I don't want to shove bullshit down those people's throats.
Sorry to be a fanboy right now, but I have to admit that I am a fan of band members' past bands and the Long Island hardcore scene in general. I remember hearing the Backup Plan, Subterfuge, and Scraps and Heart Attacks and being blown away by each one's intensity. In your opinion, what makes Long Island scene unique and how do your surroundings inform This Is Hell's work?
I always appreciate anyone liking anything I've done musically, let alone Subterfuge which was my first band and I loved it to death. And The Backup Plan (our original bass player and original drummer's prior band) is one of my favorite LIHC bands of all time! [Scraps and Heart Attacks] was always a really fun and energetic time too. Anyway, Long Island used to be very self sufficient as far as hardcore went. Bands always played NYC and usually avoided Long Island because it was A) not NYC and B) a pain in the ass to get to. Because of that I think LI developed its own special traits and a kind of, "Pay attention to us even though we're not NYC!" enthusiasm and attitude. With NYC going to shit as far as venues goes, Long Island has become a regular stop for touring bands now. This is obviously really awesome cause everyone gets to see these bands come through, but also detracts from LI's current scene in my opinion because it's become a slight variation on every other scene throughout the country. To be honest, I feel like the internet has had a ton to do with that too. The internet makes it so some dude in some area kind of sets the taste and everyone follows suit... before you know it, aside from the accents, you can't tell if you're at a hardcore show in Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico or Minnesota. That goes from local bands' stylings, fashion, moshing etcetera. That might sound like a stupid statement but it's true. One of the best parts of touring used to be visiting all these unique scenes. HC kids in Daytona used to wear board shorts and tank tops and do this ridiculous but awesome rowboat thing while bands played or the pyramid. Kids in California would always circle pit and had a bit more of the skatepunk sound, even in their hardcore. Dudes in Richmond never wore shirts and always wanted to have a good time and jump off something ridiculous. Those were characteristics of individual scenes... now, this month, in hardcore everyone across the world wears an Atlanta Braves hat and a flannel and loves Unbroken. Last month everyone had dog tags and winter hat and gambled outside shows and loves Bold. Next week everyone will have cowboy boots, listen to Depeche Mode and bring large animals in a cage with them to shows... ya know what I'm saying?
Yes, definitely. Are there any up and coming bands from that scene you're really into that readers should keep an eye on?
I used to love this question but now I hate it because it becomes almost a, "Hey, pay attention to my friends band and maybe you'll think I'm cool enough to put stock in my opinion and then you'll automatically think the band I say is cool is in fact cool" or the exact opposite of, "that band sucks because This Is Hell is whack and if they're friends, fuck that band." Not to mention, personally I feel a part of the LIHC scene, but as a band, we've been so blatantly shut out over and over again... and even though I'm doing this interview, it's because I am in This Is Hell, not because I am Rick. Maybe I'm turning into a cranky, bitter old prick... I don't think I'm bitter though 'cause I'm loving life, I'm just realistic... and I've always been cranky.
Switching gears a bit, is there a tour in the works to support the new record?
We're on tour now with Underoath, Comeback Kid and The Chariot. This tour wound up being a bit of a set up and support for the record because it came out while we're out. We have a lot we're working on for the end of the year and the New Year. We'll hopefully be hitting all of our regular areas again and FINALLY some new places. Stay tuned.
Where is the best place you've played and why?
Every place is inconsistent. We've played some places over the summer that were amazing and then were bummers this fall and vice versa. Certain spots in Germany are amazing. We had an unexpected crazy show last night in West Virginia. It's unpredictable, but that's part of the fun. Any place where kids are ready to get psyched and show some enthusiasm, I'm satisfied. I'm appreciative that anyone gives us their attention at all, but when kids genuinely listen to what you're playing and saying and you can see it in their face that it means something to them to get up in our faces with us and exchange that energy... thats amazing. Anywhere THAT kid is, I wanna play.
Related to previous questions, do you find it harder to be a full-time band as you get older?
In some ways, yes. When you're younger, certain things are more easily sacrificed. When you're older though, you appreciate things a bit more that you take for granted as a kid. I feel lucky every day I wake up in a strange place knowing that it's my job to travel all over and play my guitar every night. When I was younger that was awesome but I was a kid doing kid stuff as opposed to a 31 year old really appreciating that I am doing something I have a passion for, I am fucking the system by not following their imposed live to work and work to live rhetoric, and I am LIVING life, not just getting through day by day like a drone. On the other hand, as I get older I favor consistency as much as possible that I did as a kid and having a consistent life at HOME is virtually impossible. Paying bills is difficult, missing family and friend events becomes increasingly difficult and stressful... and establishing and maintaining a relationship, fucking forget about it.
Lastly, this is an opportunity to say whatever else is on your mind that you want readers to know. Go!
I believe in Ron Paul but I do not believe in the voting system in our country and I do not believe freedom in our country exists the way it should and the way the media tries to convince us it does. I do not believe most things involving big business are legitimate and that is starting to branch into my views of professional sports. I believe professional wrestling is the greatest format of story-telling in the world and because it admits to what it is (scripted entertainment with off camera competition, that is actually more intense than the broadcast in ring television show), is the most pure thing in America. People that are involved in music for glory and renown are assholes and should be weeded out of all underground music scenes. Metallica is still my favorite band of all time. Sick of it All is the greatest hardcore band ever. Cro-Mags should do a full world tour and bring This Is Hell out as support. Central Pennsylvania is largely racist and so is more of the world than people acknowledge. If you ever use the term "members of the team" when referring to your band and the people that work with you, I may puke in your face.