To celebrate the release of The Anti–Matter Anthology: A 1990s Post–Punk & Hardcore Reader and the imminent book release show/Snapcase Reunion/Callum Robbins benefit, we were going to interview author Norman Brannon who was responsible for the 'zine from which the book was assembled. But we figured, you'd be less interested in hearing from us, and more into checking out an all–new interview with Norm talking instead to Rob Fish of 108.
Norm put together a lengthy interview for us so we're splitting it over two days. Check it out and be sure to visit The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York this weekend to check out the book, watch Snapcase play and help out Callum and J. Robbins.
NORMAN: We sat down to do the Ressurection interview for Anti-Matter in 1993. So what was that? Fourteen years ago?
NORMAN: And now, fourteen years later, Iâm sitting here talking about hardcore music for The Anti-Matter Anthology book and you are playing in 108 again. In other words, weâre both still involved with this scene. Why do you think that is?
As hardcore gets older, it also changes by sheer virtue of the amount of people involved with it. So now youâve got all the newer kids, but youâve also got kids that have been hanging out for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty-five years. The pool just keeps getting bigger. And I think one of the things you lose from that, at least in the bigger cities, is that experience of going to a show and feeling like you know everyone there â at least by face. I
ROB: Because we have problems? [Laughs] Well, I mean, at least from my perspective, I probably need hardcore or punk music more now than I did fourteen years ago.
NORMAN: Which is interesting to me because most people seem to need it less as they lose some of that adolescent angst. Like, on some level, I donât go out of my way to invite that kind of aggression into my daily life.
ROB: Well, yeah, well-adjusted people donât need it! [Laughs] But at least for me, I especially need to play it. Listening to it is probably a different thing, though. Even back then, I donât know that I listened to as much hardcore music as most people in bands. But in terms of playing it and relating to the energy that comes from that, I think Iâm much more reliant on it now than I ever was.
NORMAN: What do you mean exactly?
ROB: Things were just so different for me fourteen years ago: I was renting apartments from other people, I had no family, I had no kids â I felt like I had complete and utter control over everything. If I decided the next day that I wanted to drop everything, I could just easily do that.
NORMAN: Like that time [in 1992] when I asked you to quit your job?
ROB: Yeah! You just woke up one day and said, "You probably shouldnât go into work today so we can hang out." And I was like, "Fuck it, Iâm not gonna go!"
NORMAN: Thatâs a true story!
ROB: I know. And, unfortunately, itâs not like that anymore.
NORMAN: It wasnât my job to quit, but I do remember feeling so free on that day. Like we could do whatever the hell we wanted.
ROB: Exactly. Even when we went on tour that year, knowing that you didnât have a place to live and I didnât have a place to live, knowing that we were gonna be homeless and displaced when we got back â it wasnât really a big deal. And thatâs what I mean. Now I have a family, I have two kids that rely on me emotionally and financially. They rely on me to be a stabilizing force, and the fact of the matter is, Iâm not a very good stabilizing force in most respects. So thatâs what I mean about punk rock meaning more to me now. Itâs for my own self-preservation, because at this point in my life I really rely on that avenue to express myself. Otherwise, I would probably just go insane.
NORMAN: I think the hardest thing, for me, is dealing with how much Iâve changed and how much the scene has changed, and trying to find some sort of common ground. And when I say that, Iâm not talking about how so many people think change is a negative thing â like, "Oh, dude, itâs just not the same!" â thatâs not what I mean. The world changed, politics changed, technology changed. Punk rock doesnât exist in a vacuum; it has to change. But from the perspective of someone like you or me, who came into the scene about twenty years ago, there seems to be a point where you have to ask yourself whether or not you want to make that adjustment to the change. You have to decide whether the new version speaks to you, as opposed to the version that spoke to you at a very different point in your life. I think thatâs a very real question for some of the older kids.
ROB: Vic and I were talking about that a little last night, saying that for us, there isnât really this need to adjust to what punk rock or hardcore is today. Itâs more about figuring out what we want to invest into what it means to us. At times, that might feel a little awkward. Like, we played Reno the other night and it seemed like most of the crowd was 21 and under â which means the last time we played Reno, some of those kids were somewhere in between a year old and six years old. So to stand there and to watch some of those kids being â at least from our perspective â a little bit apathetic, itâs justâ¦ I mean, fuck. There were kids just sitting there, text messaging throughout the entire show! There were bands that were out there, playing their hearts out, and there were kids just bullshitting on the skate ramp. It was just weird. When I was that age, it didnât matter if it was a band Iâd never heard, I was that kid that was front and center.
NORMAN: I donât know. Do you really think that was the way things were? Or is that just rose-colored glasses at this point?
ROB: It was for me.
NORMAN: Because Iâll always remember this show at the Anthrax [in Norwalk, CT] in, like, 1989 or 1990, where Supertouch played with Econochrist and, I think, Swiz. And when Supertouch played, you know, they were huge in Connecticut. Kids were going crazy, and it was an awesome show. Then Econochrist went on â and I was actually interested in seeing what they were all about â but I remember watching the entire place clear out except for, like, ten people. And as they played, I watched each of those people walk out, one by one. And maybe like the sixth person out actually mooned the band as he walked out of the club. I just felt so fucking awful. I stayed in one spot for the entire set and bought a record on the way out, and personally, I wasnât even that crazy about them. But they certainly werenât worthy of mooning, you know? So thatâs the memory that comes to mind. I definitely feel like there was that kind of apathy back then â at least from my perspective.
ROB: Maybe at the Anthrax, yeah, because those kids knew that they could count on a great show almost every weekend. They could almost take it for granted.
NORMAN: Thatâs true.
ROB: But your Econochrist moment is my Slipknot moment.
NORMAN: The Revelation Slipknot, I hope.
ROB: [Laughs] Yeah. I remember when they played at CBs. It was a packed matinee and I think everyone but me and four people just walked out when they played. I mean, I just remember I just lost it. I loved that band.
NORMAN: The other big thing Iâve been thinking about during this period of retrospect is that as hardcore gets older, it also changes by sheer virtue of the amount of people involved with it. So now youâve got all the newer kids, but youâve also got kids that have been hanging out for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty-five years. The pool just keeps getting bigger. And I think one of the things you lose from that, at least in the bigger cities, is that experience of going to a show and feeling like you know everyone there â at least by face. I feel like that was something that really added to the community aspect of the scene that I was hoping to illustrate a little bit with Anti-Matter. Not to say, "Oh, look how cool it was." But to say, "Oh, wow. Look how different it was."
ROB: I got an e-mail from this guy once that had a link to a website with all these 108 flyers â like, 108 and Born Against. Or 108 and Rorschach and Assuck. Or 108 and John Henry West and Not For The Lack of Trying. And the kid was like, "Were those shows uncomfortable for you?" Because he was looking at it from the perspective of the scene today, where thereâs almost some kind of rap persona; like, there are actual beefs between bands. But there wasnât any of that. It wasnât a big deal. Thatâs what I really appreciate about that period. For the most part, if you were playing the show, our bands were hanging out together or going out to eat together. It was okay to disagree with each other.
NORMAN: Right. And as long as no one is making unwarranted personal attacks, then that kind of discord or disagreement is kind of what hardcore was built on, in my opinion.
NORMAN: So tell me, when you think back to where we were during that interview in 1993, where do you see yourself in it all? I mean, obviously, there are huge changes â the wife, the children, the move to California â but do you think there are any interesting or major differences from who you were at that time in that interview?
ROB: Not any sort of major departure, but the one thing that jumps out at me is definitely how much more it means to play a show for me today than it did back then. Every weekend at that point, weâd play two or three shows. It was easy to it for granted because there was always a tour coming up. Whereas today, you really do ask yourself, is this going to be the last show? So yeah, the reasons why the music is important to me and exactly what it is that I want from the music has probably morphed a bit, but who I am? Thereâs been some evolution there, but Iâm still the same awkward individual I was back then. Maybe Iâm a little nicerâ¦
NORMAN: Really? [Laughs]
ROB: Okay, maybe Iâm perceived to be a little nicer [laughs]. But Iâd probably be more curious to hear your answer to that question for yourself.
NORMAN: Well, what would you say? Youâve known me forever.
ROB: Iâd say that, for me, the angst has increased. And I think for you the angst has turned into more of a drive for your own self-determination, just changing your life or completely separating yourself from the past. Whether that be changing your name or moving to Chicago to do something different, moving to California â all of it. I think the majority of the feeling is still there, but it comes out differently. Even back then, I always thought you different from me or from most of the people I knew from the punk scene. You were definitely a little more introverted in terms of how you expressed some of the things you were going through, as opposed to me, who was more of a loud mouth.
NORMAN: Hearing you say that, Iâd probably say that one of the major differences between who I am today and who I was in the â90s is that the younger Norman was a very depressed person. And I think my expression of that was almost subversive. I mean, Anti-Matter wasnât exactly the feel-good fanzine of the year.
NORMAN: I think maybe that was it. I didnât want to project myself as a depressed person, so if I could get other people to sound depressed, I would feel better about myself [laughs]. On some level, that was part of my experience with the fanzine.
Every weekend at that point, weâd play two or three shows. It was easy to it for granted because there was always a tour coming up. Whereas today, you really do ask yourself, is this going to be the last show?
ROB: And that was part of what I enjoyed about it. You had all these bands that seemingly contrasted each other in their music or message, but you boiled all of it down into a bunch of awkward adults who didnât know who they were yet. Thatâs part of the reason Iâm not nostalgic: For me, the â80s and â90s were personally painful. I was always on edge of the next nervous breakdown. And I wouldnât say that Iâm much better off today, but today I have more self-confidence about who I am. Iâm more comfortable with it. That was the funny thing about Anti-Matter, to me. Whether you were talking to me or an indie rock band or Mike Judge â after it was over, we all kind of looked and sounded similar to one another.