Reign Supreme

They don't come much heavier and angst-ridden than Reign Supreme. Having been a bit quiet over the last couple of years, the Philly-natives are once again making their mark in the hardcore world. Punknews interviewer Faye Turnbull caught up with frontman Jay Pepito following their set at Hevy Fest in UK, Kent where they got talking about their priorities outside the band, their long-awaited new record, "breaking edge", and how the human race disgusts him.

You’ve just played Hevy Fest, how was it playing such a huge stage?
At first, it was really tough for us, but we’ve kind of got used to it by now. I will say it’s awkward, because we’re kind of one of those middle stage bands, we’re not big enough to play a huge stage, but we’re not small enough where no-one watches us, so I kind of feel it’s tough for us. We didn’t even get to sound check before we played and that can be challenging, because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but all in all, it’s fun if there’s energy in the crowd and it works out ok.

Things have been quiet in the Reign Supreme camp over the past couple of years, why did you decide to take a little break?
We hit it really hard for a few years with touring a lot and as much as we like touring, I found that the best thing you can do is treat touring like a vacation. It shouldn’t be your job and if touring becomes your job, that’s fine, some people can pull it off, but I grew to hate it. So, we decided to step back a little bit. We still practiced and still play, we just wrote a new record and we still do little tours here and there, but we found that it’s more fun to actually have a life outside the band, and then once a year, take a month to actually tour. We did that this month, we toured the US, Canada and Europe, so we can still make it work. It’s just that we’re getting older and I don’t want to be one of those bands who just does this because I have nothing else going on. I want to be one of those bands who does it because I love it.

Loads of bands love to go on how, "hardcore is their life," but it’s cool that you can admit you have other priorities and do things at your own pace.
I have a really nice house, I have a 2010 Subaru and I have a good job. I’m not from the streets, none of us are. I’m not going to lie, we all have our pasts and some of us are still struggling with certain things, even right now, but we’ve never been one of those bands that’s been like, "Yo dawg, we’re from the streets!" We’re just dudes playing passionate hardcore and that’s it.

Have you still been involved with the hardcore scene?
Oh yeah, Dave runs a little label called Get This Right Records and he puts out bands like Goldust, Empire of Rats, and a couple of other really rad bands. Mikey works for Ibanez guitars, so he’s always doing music stuff, and as far as the rest of us go, I recently played guitar for a band called The Wrong Side who are on Lockin’ Out, and we all stay active with music. Clint plays in another band called Current, I think it’s ex-members of Forfeit. We still all do stuff outside of Reign Supreme, in terms of music and hardcore.

It’s also cool that you didn’t announce a break up and make a big deal about it like a lot of bands do, then get back together straight away.
We thought that would be really tacky. I don’t see us ever breaking up, I see us probably not touring as much, but we will probably always be writing music. We’ve just finished writing a new EP and we’ve just starting writing a follow-up EP, and about 14-15 songs for it. We just keep going and evolving, I don’t see us being one of those bands having a last show and making a big deal about it. I think we’ll be like, "Alright, this member is going to have a kid, let’s take a year off." It’s like bands start off and they either get hyped or they don’t get hyped, and the hyped bands, they can look forward to a very short lifespan of mega-stardom in the hardcore community, which in the larger community means jack shit, and they either go out on top like Have Heart or Guns Up! did, or they go down a path of mediocrity. I don’t think we’re going to do any of those things, I don’t think we’re a hyped band, I don’t think we’re big enough. I just think we’re always going to write angry music.

It seems that you’ve been recording forever, what’s going on there?
This record took us a very long time to write compared to the last two. American Violence is a straight-up heavy hardcore record. Reign Supreme had a little more variety, but for the most part, it was still pretty much hardcore. This record is without a doubt a metal record and it’s without a doubt a very experimental record. We have a song that’s 7-minutes long and songs that have all kinds of weird stuff that we’ve never done before, so it took us a really long time to write it. I sing a lot more on the new album and we got really experimental with the song structure, they’re not as straightforward as they used to be. To be honest, I think we get lumped in with bands like Trapped Under Ice or Cruel Hand or Madball, and I have no problem with that, that’s fine, but I think we’re getting to the point where we’ve been doing this long enough where we don’t actually give a fuck anymore and we just want to play music we like. At the end of the day, we just want to write heavy pissed off music that suits us. But it’s done now, and we’re just finalizing the artwork and the final touches with our label, and it’ll be out.

So, why are you so angry?
I don’t know, I have a really good life and I’m generally a very happy person, but I don’t know what it is. I just get really, really violent about things. I think I have a lot of empathy for people and sometimes when I see people suffering, because of unnecessary things… Like right now in America, there’s a very big dividing line about gay marriage and it drives me fucking crazy that there’s people out there that still think that same sex marriage is wrong, so things like that, as much as I don’t sing about them too much - though there’s one song on our new record that speaks about that - we try not to get too political, but it’s stuff like that, that drives me nuts. I legitimately can’t walk down the street without seeing people do things that make me sick to my stomach, and that’s what I end up singing about. I don’t like people, I don’t like the human race, and I think the world would be a better place if I could live on a farm with my dog and my wife somewhere and that’s it.

Your music is obviously very aggressive. How do you feel about this next generation of hardcore bands that try to adopt this "hard" NYHC-style image?
I don’t really feel one way or the other about it, we’ve played with Backtrack, we’ve played with Naysayer, we’ve played with all these bands and they’re all fine. The thing is, I’m 29, and I’ll be 30 in like a month, and I started going to see Madball when I was like 14, and not to slate those bands at all, because they do what they do and they’re good at it, but I just don’t care for that stuff anymore. I prefer bands like Black Breath or Enabler, I like listening to stuff that’s a little more complicated. Like I said, I have nothing against those bands doing what they do, it’s certainly cool to play with them, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to listen to bands that sound like that in my own time. I’d rather listen to stuff that I haven’t got into too much before. It’s often a novel and authenticity thing, I’d rather listen to stuff that’s new and interesting to me. I’ve been listening to hardcore 15-years, I need to listen to other stuff.

Image seems to be really important in hardcore and Reign Supreme has always been known for its merch, how important is it for you?
Merch is a tough issue for us. At the end of the day, we make merchandise for people who like our band and not for us. That’s the unfortunate truth, because if it wasn’t for merch sales, we’re not a big enough band to tour or pay bills without it, so we have to make merch that we know will sell. Sometimes, that means making merch that I wouldn’t necessarily wear, but whatever. We’ve never made anything that I’m ashamed of and as long as I can say that, I’m happy. We try to keep it simple, big words, iconic images, things that kind of represent us and hopefully kids like it and buy it. Image is a big thing, though. I kind of think it’s important for bands to have an image. Like bands like Black Breath evoke a different image like bands like Trapped Under Ice. They’re both hardcore, but you can tell apart the kid who listens to Black Breath as opposed to the kid that listens to Trapped Under Ice. I think it’s important that, that kind of aesthetic exists, because it’s part of this culture, but at the same time, I’m too old, I don’t give a fuck. I just want to do what I want to do.

How do you feel about all these "eBay hype bands" whose merch sells for ridiculous amounts?
When we started, that was a big thing. One of the shirts we’re selling today, we put "hardcore lives" on the back of it and someone bought it for over 100 dollars on eBay. That happens. I don’t care. Capitalism exists, what are you going to do? It is stupid that kids buy into it that much and there’s that much anticipation for merch as opposed to going out to see a band, but at the same time, how do I not know that that kid is from Bumblefuck, North Dakota where we’ve never played? He might never see these bands and if it costs from $100 to hold onto a piece of merch that’s going to mean a lot to him, then that’s fine, I don’t judge him for it. At the end of the day, what’s important to me is the live show and listening to music that I want to hear and what I think is interesting, so I’d rather do that than pay a lot for merch.

I saw an interview from a while back and you said you were straight edge, are you still edge?
The whole band is straight edge. I was straight edge when I was younger for about 6/7 years and then I stopped being straight edge. I never really got crazy with drinking or drugs or anything, I just didn’t care, but then about a year or two ago, I decided I was going to be straight edge again. We’re all straight edge, but we don’t really talk about it as a band, we’re not a straight edge band.

That’s interesting, how do you feel about people who say, "If you break edge you never were…" and can’t claim again?
I think people at their basic nature are stupid animals and selfish, unintelligent things, and because of that, they characterize things and often misjudge things for their own purposes. So, you’re going to have a lot of children that will talk about that kind of stuff. I don’t give a shit. If you want to say you’re straight edge, fine. If you want to go drink, fine. I don’t care what people want to do, that’s not why I’m straight edge. I’m straight edge, because I reject the idea of bar culture. I reject the idea of spending Friday, Saturday and Sunday wasted, because you hate Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I think it’s important to live life based on merit, based on fun, based on love and based on community than it is to live a life based on getting wasted watching a football game, that’s why I’m straight edge. But at the same time, I believe that that doesn’t go for everybody. I don’t care what they do. Like we’ve played with Deez Nuts a bunch of times and they’re some of the best guys I’ve ever met in music, and they’re constantly drinking and smoking pot. It’s fine, it’s what they want to do and we all get along, and it doesn’t matter. It’s us doing our thing and it’s them doing their thing.

What made you "break" edge?
I was straight edge for a long time, because I’d seen the damage that a life of substance abuse can do and then when I got into my early 20s, all of my friends started breaking edge and I guess I was kind of ashamed of it, so I gave into peer pressure as a way of separating myself from them. It really doesn’t make any sense saying it out loud - honestly. It was stupid, but I was young and I didn’t really think about it. Basically, I drank a beer at a show one time and that was me breaking edge. I think I drank a couple years later and then there was a period where I was working in restaurants and going out drinking a lot, and that was really it. Then 5/6 years ago, I stopped drinking altogether. So, it’s easily been since 2006 when that was the last time I had a drink. I didn’t really think about calling myself straight edge again until recently, because I didn’t care, but I realized that I do believe in straight edge as an ideal and I call myself that, because that’s who I am. My wife is the manager of an Italian restaurant and drinks wine all the time, we’ll go out to dinner and I’ll have coffee and she’ll have a beer. It’s totally fine. I don’t care.

I once heard you say that the Philadelphia hardcore scene is one of the most violent scenes - do you still believe that?
It’s not like that anymore, Philadelphia was traditionally one of the most violence scenes and I think that was due to a lot of kids coming into the hardcore community, because they were troubled youths and didn’t have anywhere else to go. They would act out because it was like an avenue for their frustrations. It’s really not like that anymore, because a lot of those kids grew up. It’s pretty safe and totally fun now, we have this awesome festival called This Is Hardcore every year. Philadelphia hardcore is good. There’s a lot of shows and a lot of bands. If I could change one thing about it, I wish it was a little open-minded, because a lot of the time, you have to be in with one of the cool bands to be given a chance and I wish it wasn’t like that, but I think it’s like that almost everywhere.

So, what’s next for Reign Supreme?
We’ve got another week here and then we go home, probably play a couple of shows around the east coast, and I’m immediately positive that we’re going to be starting on our LP. We’ve been working on it and have demos, but we really need to start working on pre-production, assembling lyrics, figuring out what we’re going to call it. That’s probably what we’re next going to do, because this year, we’re all really busy. I’m getting married and there’s a lot of stuff going on, so I think we’re mostly going to write this year. I do think next summer that we’re going to tour Australia and Japan, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be touring the west coast, so that’s what I’m hoping we do, but who knows? We just kind of do what we want to do and not worry about what we should do, which helps us, but hurts us sometimes too.

Do you have anything else you want to say before we finish?
I will say that on this tour, we’ve met some of the coolest bands we’ve ever played with, Verse, Soul Control, Ritual, Deez Nuts, Mixtapes. There’s a lot of good music out there, make sure you listen to it all, and definitely buy the new Black Breath and Enabler records, because they’re fucking awesome.