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, you’ve brought your wife, Moon, and son, Max, on tour with you, how’s it being on the road with them?
It’s way better. There’s less stress, I don’t have to miss them, because I’m with them, I don’t 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 she’s came back on tour, so it’s good to have her back and Max with me also. So, yeah, it’s cool. It’s definitely fun.

You’ve 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 it’s a strict 14-years and over venue, so Max had to stay in the basement, which was kind of sucky. I understand there’s rules and regulations, though. It’s 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 didn’t know that.

Colin from None More Black is also touring with you and filling in for your brother.
Yeah, he’s with The Offspring like the last time. Colin’s our UK guy, it seems, but he’s awesome and he’s doing a great job. He was at one of our first shows in Philadelphia. There was like 3 people and he was there, so he’s 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 you’re supporting Descendents here and in the US for a couple of shows, how’s that?
It’s pretty awesome. In September, we’re opening for Descendents and Rancid, and we covered them on our new record. It’s like an honor. It’s a dream. Descendents are incredible, they’re killing it and I brought my son to see them a couple months ago in Long Beach, it’s exciting.

When I last interviewed you a couple years ago, you said you weren’t inspired enough to write a new record, are you still not inspired enough? Is that why you’ve done a covers record?
Yeah, well, we always wanted to do a covers record. A couple years ago, we were talking about doing ‘hits from the pit’ and we never did it, then we finally got around to doing it. But, yeah, I’m not ready to do a new record yet. We’re doing the covers record, doing some tours around that and then we’ll figure it our. I don’t want to rush anything. It won’t 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 we’re just as proud of.

How did you decide which songs to cover on Don’t Forget Your Roots? Was it a collective thing?
I don’t 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 that’s 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.
I’ve always felt like that, I grew up listening to hip-hop, punk and hardcore. I don’t just listen to hardcore. I listen to all kinds of music now. We don’t 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. There’s so many bands we listen to and so much diverse music. I was just telling kids you can’t just listen to hardcore music your whole entire life and you shouldn’t just listen to hip-hop music your whole life. You should listen to all kinds of music and open your mind. We’re a band that was 100% inspired by bands like The Clash who had all over influences in their music - jazz, hip-hop, soul, rock. You’ve got to be open-minded, that’s why Rusty sings a Police song; we love The Police. I just don’t 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, I’m not saying anyone is. I’m 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, that’s just Toby." When we first did that, people were like, "What the fuck?! It’s out of their field." But not really, we love everything. I wanted to cover a couple of hip-hop songs on the record.

Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask, why did you stick to punk and hardcore songs?
The next one, we won’t, I really wanted to branch out. There’s so many that we didn’t get to cover, we’ll do a part two. It’s kind of tricky, though. We did the Ice Cube song and that was fun, I think we did pretty good on that, but it’s hard to do hip-hop songs in hardcore. It’s hard not to make it sound corny. You’ve got to make sure you do a good job.

Do you think the reason H2O has lasted so long is because the band isn’t 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 don’t know what it is, I guess it’s because we stopped playing so much, so kids wanted to see us again. We didn’t oversaturate ourselves and play too much.

In a world where modern hardcore bands don’t 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; they’re 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 didn’t 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 didn’t really start coming until Nothing To Prove, we cancelled a lot of tours and weren’t 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 don’t know, New York hardcore is its own thing, it’s hard to explain. It’s hardcore, but it’s 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 it’s important to get the drug free message out there?
It’s not just drug free, it’s also about being positive and being yourself. The whole program isn’t about, "Hi, I’m straight edge…" It’s 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. I’m 41 and I’ve never drank or done drugs because of this music and underground subculture, and because of my brothers partying around me a lot. It’s all pretty much positive. When I first come on stage and there’s a room full of kids, they see me all tatted up and think, "This guy’s in a band and has tattoos, he’s drug free? Yeah, right…" Because of all these stereotypes they see on television, they don’t know what’s real and what’s not, when they see tattoos, they think of thugs and I’m breaking stereotypes, I’m a dad and I’m 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 I’m 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 experiences…" 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, "I’m not here to preach to you or judge you, I’m here to tell you my story." And I think that’s why kids relate to it, because I’m not a guy in a suit saying, "Don’t do this! Don’t do that!" I’m 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, "What’s up?" I’m just a normal person and I think that’s why they relate to it. The whole thing about One Life One Chance, it’s not an intervention because I never tried anything, I can’t say, "Hi, my name is Toby Morse, I was a heroin addict and lost my kid and house…" I can’t judge anybody.

Do you think if the term ‘straight edge’ wasn’t coined, you’d still live a drug free lifestyle?
I don’t 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 Kennedy’s, 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 don’t 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?
It’s a matter of people’s schedules. If you think it’s hard for H2O to do another record, imagine doing a Hazen Street record, because you’ve 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, I’m proud of it. Hopefully, there’ll be another Hazen Street record; it was fun.

What’s next for H2O?
We have Don’t 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, we’re playing shows with Rancid, Descendents and Blink-182 then headlining shows, playing in October and November - we’ve got a lot of US stuff coming up and a bunch of schools coming up. It’s going to be busy with the school year starting.

I think that’s about it, is there anything else you want to say?
I appreciate everybody’s support. I appreciate people waiting seven years for our last album that came out three-years-ago. I promise it won’t take seven years for another record. Don’t Forget Your Roots comes out on November 1st and shout out to all the bands and many, many more that inspired us, which we couldn’t put on. We’re blessed to play music for 16-years and travel the world; we appreciate all the old fans and all the new kids who’ve been coming out.