Phil Hiotis (Sacred Love)

Baltimore nowadays gets associated with a few less than noteworthy characteristics: a city in decline, crime (thanks, The Wire), and the Orioles baseball team. Amidst this dire environment a vibrant independent music scene carries on, and one of the up-and-coming bands is Sacred Love. Punknews staff interviewer Andrew Clark sat down with vocalist/lyricist Phil Hiotis to discuss the group's origins, how permeable the Canadian border can be, and the Baltimore hardcore scene.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview for the site. I know you are a busy man between school, working, and practicing/touring with Sacred Love. What is going on with you currently?
Currently, I am finishing up my final six credits of undergrad college, working on an independent research journal that will hopefully be published by the end of spring, reworking my schedule for work since more than half of the staff just quit, as well as writing lyrics. Other than that, I am watching a lot of Law & Order and Martial Arts movies on Netflix.

While I know a little bit about Sacred Love as a result of us volunteering together at Charm City Art Space in Baltimore, MD, would you mind giving a brief history of how the band got together?
Sacred Love was conceived in mid to late 2009. I had done a band previously for a while that, after the project ran its course, left a rather bad taste in my mouth. I took a bit of a layoff from writing music and just focused on booking shows at the Charm City Art Space. This gave me satisfaction because I was directly influencing the Baltimore scene in a positive manner. This satisfaction, and also just having the opportunity to talk to and watch many bands that I booked, gave me a clear idea of the band that I wanted to do. I have to admit, at the time, I was not a fan of the trends happening in hardcore. I felt very much on the outside. Every band wanted to be Merauder or Madball, and even though I will mosh with the very best of them to "Smell the Bacon (What’s With You)," "No Choice," or "Burn Their Lies," the influx of the heavier bands from my age group did not really speak to me in the same manner as a Gut Instinct, Killing Time, or the Spudmonsters. I wanted to do a band that represented my taste in hardcore. I want to play fast without having a complete nihilistic perspective, as was the case with many bands of that time. I talked to my good friends Pat King and Daniel Fang, who I played with in my previous band, and they were both into the idea of recollaborating on this new project. We kind of sat on it for a while until I talked to another good friend of mine, Mitch Olshansky. It was around October or November, and I had not seen nor talked to Mitch since the summer. Mitch was in this band Brick, who actually just reformed, and amid trials, tribulations, and shitty dudes, he kind of went off the deep end. We talked for about 45 minutes, which is the second longest phone conversation I’ve ever had with a man, only bested by a cellular conversation that surpassed an hour by the very same Mitch Olshansky. At first, we didn’t talk about my new project, but just about hardcore - where it was, what it was going, the values, etc. - and just about growing up and coming out the other side happy. We eventually got into talking about Sacred Love, and Mitch shared the same vision of doing a band to go against the grain of the trends. We decided it right there. Mitch texted me after the phone conversation and told me he wanted in. Ev Wivell of Mindset caught wind of the rumblings of Sacred Love, because Mindset was going to play our first show - a benefit show that featured the aforementioned bands and Ruiner - and asked if we needed a bassist, which we did. He just started learning, but the comradery that comes with playing in a band filled with individuals who love hardcore, as opposed to one filled with exquisite musicians who don’t care for the scene, trumps playing the notes perfectly. That was the problem with my older band - what left such a bad taste in my mouth. There were always members of it who did not care about the hardcore scene. We played our first show January 10, 2010, where we opened with an intro we wrote a practice before the show (which we never played again), and four songs. Sacred Love has changed a lot since January 10th. We’ve had a few bassists, Pat moved to Chicago, Mitch took a job on a cruise ship that lasted the better part of a year; however, we are still a band filled with people who care deeply about the hardcore scene in Maryland, and the hardcore scene in general.

What about the local Baltimore area scene do you feel inspired you to participate by forming a band?
I’m not sure if the Baltimore scene directly inspires Sacred Love. I hear hints of Gut Instinct in our music; however, we are more influenced by the Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Cro Mags. Now we are expanding our influences to things like Supertouch and Swiz; however, that doesn’t mean that the Baltimore scene has not inspired me on a personal level. Outside of hearing me sing Next Step Up lyrics at purely random times, the Baltimore scene, being a very inviting and open scene, has taught me those virtues well. I feel very accepted when I’m at a hardcore show in Baltimore, and that is a feeling that I wish to share with anyone who walks in the door. Hell, that’s a feeling anyone should feel period.

Turning to the band presently, who else is involved in the music and lyric writing process?
As stated previously, Sacred Love has changed a lot since its inception. Mitch wrote the better part of the music for the demo and Dividing Lines. When he and Pat both left Baltimore, we had our friends Anthony Dye and Mike French join. I wasn’t sure if Mitch ever planned on staying in Baltimore when his contract was over, as he is a free spirit and commonly told me his plans of moving to California, Iceland, Uzbekistan, etc. I expressed this feeling to Anthony and Mike, and since then, Sacred Love’s music has no longer been the focus of one person. Mitch is now back in the band, and he now contributes equally with Mike and Anthony towards our new music. Even Tommy, our bassist, helps contribute to writing, and honestly, what bassist does that outside of Roger Waters (I’m joking, you four string warriors)? I have written all the lyrics for Sacred Love, but if someone came up with lyrics, I would not be opposed to using them.

Are there any plans for writing new material and touring? I know you guys just had some fun on a brief tour through southern Canada.
We are currently writing our full length that will be released by Youngblood Records. We have a split with Secret People of California that will be coming out in the spring on Upside Down Records. We’re kind of laying low from touring so we can focus on writing; however, we will be doing a more extensive tour in the summer, as well as a few weekends sprinkled here and there before.

Looking at your lyrics they seem to be influenced by a mixture of personal reflection and social commentary. Is there a particular reason why you write about these topics, over say, singing about girl problems or how much school can suck?
I actually have a couple of songs about how much school can suck. "Peace of Mind" and "Mirage" are both centralized around my hopelessness towards college. I’m an English major, and the chance of me having a stimulating job or career afterwards is not very likely, unless I get more schooling. This is highlighted in "Mirage" with the line, "I’ll live in die in four years time, reincarnate to wait in unemployment lines." I know, it’s a very white-collar problem to have; however, I don’t dismiss the problems concerning the oversaturation of the college degree as a small or privileged issue. Yes, I personally have had a good life, but that doesn’t mean that someone who struggled through their life would feel or experience the same issue after they are finished with their college career. Continual schooling is not something that everyone would want to do; yet, it is becoming more of a necessity in order to secure a comfortable life. Anyway, to truly answer your question, I focus on certain social issues such as the gender roles, the check of morality in riots, and the importance of critical thinking because they are simply the issues that matter to me. We aren’t by any means a political band. I’m doing the same thing that I’m sure any band that is talking about personal pain, how school sucks, or a girl breaking their heart, is doing; I’m writing about what I feel. I feel very strongly about these issues, much stronger than I do about past relationships. I can’t write a love song as good as Elvis Costello. I can’t write a fuck you song to my ex girlfriend like Jawbreaker. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t continue writing broken hearted ballots or try their hands at writing love songs - Christ, what will I put on my mix CDs? I’m just saying that things like love, girlfriends, and the happily ever after that comes along with it does not interest or hold as much resonance as some other issues in my life right now. I think it’s perfectly natural for people to underline the ideal of love and finding a soul mate, but I never really put too much emphasis on that.

Another thing I like about Sacred Love is that you guys seem to have a lot of fun playing your music live. What about playing live incites this reaction from the band?
If you’re a band that isn’t the Beatles, and you don’t like playing live, why are you even a band? The energy and feeling of playing live, especially for a hardcore band, is unmatched.

Do you have memorable live experiences that you would like to share with readers?
We played a tiny house show in Providence, RI with three guitars and we sounded incredibly loud. I could feel the floor trembling, and I was dizzy for an hour after the set. We covered the last 11 seconds of Smell the Bacon (I guess it would be the "What’s With You" part) and if anyone came up to sing it or moshed, we gave them a free shirt. One time we covered that in Indiana, and this guy asked us to play it again, which we did, and he went on to kill everyone in the room during the 2 second breakdown. We covered "Death Camps" by the Cro Mags at This Is Hardcore, and did a pretty damn good job at it. I remember talking to Ev later about that, and we both marked it as the true turning point of Sacred Love; the exact point where Sacred Love changed as a band. The days of Ev Wivell bass jumps and power stances gave way to the Mike French era of three guitar solos over a five and half minute long cover. Also, this isn’t really a live experience, but should be noted anyway: Mitch got into Canada with no passport.

I am also curious to hear about what bands from the area you guys are looking forward to playing with this year; Baltimore, in my opinion, gets overlooked because of having DC so close.
There’s this band, In Between, I’m really excited about. A lot of bands list Silent Majority, Dag Nasty, and Lifetime as influences and end up sounding like a shitty Saves the Day; but this band truly sounds like their influences. They are 120% Long Island influenced. Brick has reconvened, and I am so excited for their new material. Mindset and Praise both have full lengths coming out. We’ve toured a lot with Praise, and honestly, we could tour only with them for the rest of our bands’ lives, and I would be so happy. They are a great band and Andy writes lyrics that I relate to so much. The song "Autumn" from their single truly encompasses my feelings on growing up in hardcore. Brief Lives is a newer band that I think is pretty cool. Trapped Under Ice put out a great record in "Big Kiss Goodnight." The block of "Outcast," "Victimized," and "Time Waits," may be the strongest core of a record that I have heard in a very long time. I also deeply relate to all three of these songs. I’m also a guy who loves progression. That guy that says the demo is better; well, that guy is not me. I’m the complete opposite. I love the shitty rock albums they put out. Not to say that "Big Kiss Goodnight" is a shitty rock album, I’m just saying that I love the steps taken from Trapped Under Ice from the demo to now. It’s gradual, yet not lagging. It’s logical and very well executed. Also, Eddie Brock is putting out a 7inch on A389 records that I think is fucking great. I’ve known Tom and Alex for a while. I watched them grow up from wearing cheetah pants and sporting mohawks to the Gears of War 3 playin, Library workin, power violence band they are now. Also, true story: Tom learned how to play drums from playing Rock Band. I shit you not. Baltimore has a lot of cool bands from all around the spectrum. There’s this band Big Mouth, who has a very Sonic Youth element to their music. Pianos Become the Teeth just put out a great album. I feel they stand on top of the screamo resurgence bands. I also enjoy bands like Beach House, Wye Oak, The Pilgrim, and Celebration a lot. Musically, Baltimore is like heaven.

Per tradition, you have the last word.
"By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; It yearns me not if men my garments wear, Such outward things dwell not in my desires. But if it be a sin to covet honor I am the most offending soul alive." -Shakespeare "Henry V"

"I’d rather be a brainless monkey than a heartless monster." -Goku