Sixteen years since their formation and H2O are still showing the hardcore world how it's done as they prepare for the release of their covers record, aptly-titled, Don't Forget Your Roots. Punknews interviewer Faye Turnbull caught up with frontman Toby Morse ahead of their recent London headline show, where they talked about the band's longevity, the importance of being open-minded and his project One Life One Chance.
This time round, youâve brought your wife, Moon, and son, Max, on tour with you, howâs it being on the road with them?
Itâs way better. Thereâs less stress, I donât have to miss them, because Iâm with them, I donât have to turn on my phone all that much. Having my family on tour is awesome and this guy [Max] gets to see all the castles and all the fun stuff.
How are they handling the touring lifestyle?
My wife used to tour with me before Max was born, she toured with me for almost 10-years. She got pregnant on tour, actually. This is the first time sheâs came back on tour, so itâs good to have her back and Max with me also. So, yeah, itâs cool. Itâs definitely fun.
Youâve been having problems with venues and age restrictions, though - right?
Yeah, at The Peel in Kingston. They were worried since the riots were there and itâs a strict 14-years and over venue, so Max had to stay in the basement, which was kind of sucky. I understand thereâs rules and regulations, though. Itâs funny because all-ages in America means all-ages, but we found out over here that all-ages over here means 14 and under, so we didnât know that.
Colin from None More Black is also touring with you and filling in for your brother.
Yeah, heâs with The Offspring like the last time. Colinâs our UK guy, it seems, but heâs awesome and heâs doing a great job. He was at one of our first shows in Philadelphia. There was like 3 people and he was there, so heâs just been our friend for a long time and it just worked out.
You said a while back that you wanted Nothing to Prove to be your Everything Sucks, and now youâre supporting Descendents here and in the US for a couple of shows, howâs that?
Itâs pretty awesome. In September, weâre opening for Descendents and Rancid, and we covered them on our new record. Itâs like an honor. Itâs a dream. Descendents are incredible, theyâre killing it and I brought my son to see them a couple months ago in Long Beach, itâs exciting.
When I last interviewed you a couple years ago, you said you werenât inspired enough to write a new record, are you still not inspired enough? Is that why youâve done a covers record?
Yeah, well, we always wanted to do a covers record. A couple years ago, we were talking about doing âhits from the pitâ and we never did it, then we finally got around to doing it. But, yeah, Iâm not ready to do a new record yet. Weâre doing the covers record, doing some tours around that and then weâll figure it our. I donât want to rush anything. It wonât be 7-years, but when I next make a record, I want it to be 10 times better than Nothing To Prove. I want to make something weâre just as proud of.
How did you decide which songs to cover on Donât Forget Your Roots? Was it a collective thing?
I donât know, I just thought of songs from when I grew up that really inspired me or songs that changed my life or songs where when I listen to them, I still get that feeling, so thatâs how we kind of chose the songs. Based on the past and based on how they inspired me or the rest of the guys in the band or H2O in general.
At the Kingston show the other night, you kind of went on a little rant about how hardcore kids should be more open-minded when it comes to music.
Iâve always felt like that, I grew up listening to hip-hop, punk and hardcore. I donât just listen to hardcore. I listen to all kinds of music now. We donât play hardcore music then go in the van and listen to hardcore music; we love all kinds of music, Coldplay, Prince, I have a Madonna tattoo. Thereâs so many bands we listen to and so much diverse music. I was just telling kids you canât just listen to hardcore music your whole entire life and you shouldnât just listen to hip-hop music your whole life. You should listen to all kinds of music and open your mind. Weâre a band that was 100% inspired by bands like The Clash who had all over influences in their music - jazz, hip-hop, soul, rock. Youâve got to be open-minded, thatâs why Rusty sings a Police song; we love The Police. I just donât think people should be closed-minded. Sometimes when we do the police, people look at us like, "What the hell are you guys doing?!" Well, there is other music aside from punk and hardcore.
Do you find that hardcore kids are generally closed-minded?
Nah, Iâm not saying anyone is. Iâm just speaking from in the past like people were really bugged out when we covered Madonna, but people who knew me and knew that I had a tattoo of her were like, "Oh well, thatâs just Toby." When we first did that, people were like, "What the fuck?! Itâs out of their field." But not really, we love everything. I wanted to cover a couple of hip-hop songs on the record.
Yeah, thatâs what I was going to ask, why did you stick to punk and hardcore songs?
The next one, we wonât, I really wanted to branch out. Thereâs so many that we didnât get to cover, weâll do a part two. Itâs kind of tricky, though. We did the Ice Cube song and that was fun, I think we did pretty good on that, but itâs hard to do hip-hop songs in hardcore. Itâs hard not to make it sound corny. Youâve got to make sure you do a good job.
Do you think the reason H2O has lasted so long is because the band isnât so much a focal point in your life anymore. You all seem to have other businesses, projects and families to keep you busy.
We stopped making music and started doing other things. I donât know what it is, I guess itâs because we stopped playing so much, so kids wanted to see us again. We didnât oversaturate ourselves and play too much.
In a world where modern hardcore bands donât seem to last two-minutes, why do you think that fellow New York hardcore bands, like Madball, Sick of It All, Agnostic Front, etc. have lasted so long?
They work hard and tour hard; theyâre very inspirational. Terror also, along with Madball, Sick of It All and Agnostic Front, they tour like crazy. They paved the way for bands like H2O. We didnât come to Europe for a long time and they were coming over and making New York hardcore known over here, so we appreciate that. We didnât really start coming until Nothing To Prove, we cancelled a lot of tours and werenât really professional. Bands like that though are still killing it and inspire so many people, so much love for those bands. They definitely opened a lot of doors for bands over here. I donât know, New York hardcore is its own thing, itâs hard to explain. Itâs hardcore, but itâs a different energy, realness and hardness, you know what I mean? I love it.
Now you seem to be focusing on your One Life One Chance project, why do you think itâs important to get the drug free message out there?
Itâs not just drug free, itâs also about being positive and being yourself. The whole program isnât about, "Hi, Iâm straight edgeâ¦" Itâs more about letting kids know that you have a chance in your life to make the right choices. In my PowerPoint, I have photos of friends who are drug free and very successful, like professional athletes, wrestlers and musicians, showing you can do the same thing and be cool and not give into peer pressure. I talk about my life and how punk rock and skateboarding kept me away from peer pressure at a very young age. I was saved, basically. I just talk about living with a positive attitude and everything in my life. Iâm 41 and Iâve never drank or done drugs because of this music and underground subculture, and because of my brothers partying around me a lot. Itâs all pretty much positive. When I first come on stage and thereâs a room full of kids, they see me all tatted up and think, "This guyâs in a band and has tattoos, heâs drug free? Yeah, rightâ¦" Because of all these stereotypes they see on television, they donât know whatâs real and whatâs not, when they see tattoos, they think of thugs and Iâm breaking stereotypes, Iâm a dad and Iâm vegetarian.
How did you find out that you had a knack for public speaking?
A friend of mine in Queens, New York - she has an H2O tattoo, she was a fan and became a friend of mine. She made a PMA mixed CD for the kids in her school, she put a bunch of songs on there, including "Sunday", and when the kids came back after their spring break, she had to do a project about what songs they liked and the whole class picked "Sunday". These kids had never heard of punk rock or anything, she told me these kids had a connection with the song and asked if they could write us some letters, so they sent me all these letters in the mail, all these amazing, emotional letters, so she said I should come by and meet these kids next time Iâm In New York at school and I was like, "Why?" and she was like, "Just tell them about your life, your dad, straight edge, your experiencesâ¦" I told a couple of my friends I was going to do it, then another friend told me his son and daughter are straight edge because of H2O and said I should go to their school first, then all of a sudden there were 900-kids at my first school then another school and another school, it just happened.
Has anybody called it preachy?
Never. I never preach in H2O, I never preach in schools, I tell them, "Iâm not here to preach to you or judge you, Iâm here to tell you my story." And I think thatâs why kids relate to it, because Iâm not a guy in a suit saying, "Donât do this! Donât do that!" Iâm not like that. I had people like that come to my school when I was a kid, but when I come in tattooed and talking the way I talk like, "Whatâs up?" Iâm just a normal person and I think thatâs why they relate to it. The whole thing about One Life One Chance, itâs not an intervention because I never tried anything, I canât say, "Hi, my name is Toby Morse, I was a heroin addict and lost my kid and houseâ¦" I canât judge anybody.
Do you think if the term âstraight edgeâ wasnât coined, youâd still live a drug free lifestyle?
I donât know. I saw how it affected my brothers when I was young, they would all get drunk and smoke weed, I was so scared and then they turned me onto punk rock and skateboarding, and a lot of that music then was the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedyâs, Circle Jerks and all this of this crazy cursing, then they turned me onto Minor Threat then 7Seconds and Dag Nasty, but with Minor Threat, I was 13 and I was already going to punk shows and it just hit me at the right time and the right age, everything. It was fast, crazy music that I loved and could skateboard to, and they were saying you donât have to drink or do drugs to be cool. It was awesome.
When I last saw you a few months back at Groezrock, you performed a Hazen Street song with the guys in Madball, is there going to be a Hazen Street reunion?
Itâs a matter of peopleâs schedules. If you think itâs hard for H2O to do another record, imagine doing a Hazen Street record, because youâve got H2O, Madball, New Found Glory and Angels & Airwaves. That was one of my favorite records to make, working with all those guys who I admire and respect as musicians and human beings; it was a great experience. I love that record, Iâm proud of it. Hopefully, thereâll be another Hazen Street record; it was fun.
Whatâs next for H2O?
We have Donât Forget Your Roots coming out on November 1st and three different 7-inches coming out before that, a California 7", a New York 7" and a DC 7". In September, weâre playing shows with Rancid, Descendents and Blink-182 then headlining shows, playing in October and November - weâve got a lot of US stuff coming up and a bunch of schools coming up. Itâs going to be busy with the school year starting.
I think thatâs about it, is there anything else you want to say?
I appreciate everybodyâs support. I appreciate people waiting seven years for our last album that came out three-years-ago. I promise it wonât take seven years for another record. Donât Forget Your Roots comes out on November 1st and shout out to all the bands and many, many more that inspired us, which we couldnât put on. Weâre blessed to play music for 16-years and travel the world; we appreciate all the old fans and all the new kids whoâve been coming out.