What a treat! Today we bring to you an artist on artist interview by Justin Conigliaro of Brooklyn based punk band Up For Nothing. Justin sat down to interview the legendary front man Ernie Parada of Grey Area, Black Train Jack and much more to talk about his ability to continue to have an impact on the scene, band stuff and his screen printing empire.
The Scenes Behind the Scene: An Interview with Ernie Parada
It was the summer of 2003. I was 16 years old and my friends and I went out to St. Marks Place in New York City to walk around and be teenagers in public. No visit to St. Marks was complete for me without dropping into Sounds (local record store) to try to find some cheap used CD’s. I had $8.00 in my pocket and spent 7 of those dollars on a used copy of Fanbelt Algebra. The second (and final) full length release from the New York City-based GreyArea. I knew this bands name from a homemade compilation mix that my sister’s older friend made me (which he very accurately titled with black sharpie “punk as fuck”). After this purchase, I didn’t have enough money to get back on the train to Brooklyn and neither did my friends. We instead jumped the turnstile not knowing there were cops a mere few feet away from us. We all got $50 tickets and were sent off. I put that CD in when I got home and remember being truly captivated by the voice of frontman Ernie Parada. I fell in love with that voice and that band.
Let’s flash forward to the early days of 2006. MySpace is life and Ernie’s new band The Arsons was doing its thing playing shows around NYC with some of my heroes. I was also in a band at this time and thanks to the MySpace Gods, our paths finally crossed with The Arsons. Never fearing the power of asking a question, I asked them to play our record release show at the now-defunct “Third Rail” in South Brooklyn. They agreed, and I was trying hard to mask the excitement of getting the opportunity to share a stage with the person who belonged to the voice that first captivated me those three years prior. Later that year, Ernie and crew reunited GreyArea for a special one-off performance during the final days of CBGB’s and invited my band on the bill as well. This was the first feeling of validation that I remember getting during the time that I spent playing music. It was an opportunity and a moment that I never forgot. The beginning of what would end up being quite a few connections and collaborations between Ernie and my band and more importantly; this marked beginning of a friendship based on random text message exchanges of us complementing each other’s singing voices, both of us WANTING to start a band together but neither of us having even an ounce of time to do so, bicycles, basketball, and the fact that I need to get a car.
What has not been touched upon yet is Ernie’s prior musical and visual art contributions to the punk/hardcore scene that date all the way back to 1980. Before The Arsons and before GreyArea, Ernie played in another melodic juggernaut of a band called Black Train Jack in the 90’s and before that, came the almighty Token Entry which pummeled through the 80’s. Ernie has also had his hand in other notable projects such as In Your Face, Higher Giant and John Henry. While doing his thing in these bands musically, Ernie was also responsible for creating logos, designing record covers and merchandise for many of the bands we all know and love. This, my friends is an extremely impressive (and too often overlooked) body of work that spans decades, that inspired and influenced countless other bands, records, and songs, and rolled on through various generations of show-goers and punks from around the world.
Ernie has now found an extremely creative new way to continue his contributions to the scene, behind the scenes. A graphic designer by day, Ernie started Hellgate Industries back in 2011. Hellgate Industries is Ernie’s one-man-show, garage-based, design, illustration, and screen printing company. If you have been to a punk show in recent years that was accompanied by an awesome limited/screen print poster; there is a good sporting chance that poster was thought of, created, screen printed, numbered and signed by Ernie Parada out of his garage in Astoria, Queens (there is also a small chance that I sold you that poster). The Hellgate Industries list of active (and often repeat) customers range from Rancid, The Gaslight Anthem / Brian Fallon, The Bouncing Souls, The Loved Ones / Dave Hause, Agnostic Front, 7 Seconds, Fu Manchu, Propagandhi, Sick of it All, The Menzingers, H2O, Saves the Day, Bad Brains, New Found Glory, The Bronx and loads more. I am honored to have had this opportunity to catch up with my friend and the (Black Train) jack of all trades himself, Ernie Parada on what he’s been up to with Hellgate Industries, a retrospective look into his past musical endeavors, working with bands in a new ways, staying creative, reunion shows, working independently, The Foo Fighters, printing and the overall scenes behind the scene.
You started your first band nearly forty years ago. What is it about music, or THIS music that kept you in the game for so long?
It was a couple things. For one, I was a little kid, 13 or 14 years old, and it was accessible. You never needed permission from someone on the outside to write, play or record. We were never dependent on labels or managers or anything. We just got together and tried, and it worked. And because I was fortunate enough to be part of this when there was a scene, we were inventing things as we went along. There was no time tested models, or formulas to follow yet, so there was a very "anything goes" attitude about it. But probably the most important thing was the comradery. There are always tight relationships built in a band. You build lasting friendships, you learn leadership skills and how to collaborate, or you break up.
It's no secret that reunions have been a huge trend in recent years. What are your thoughts on bands like Jawbreaker, The Misfits & Avail reuniting after such a long hiatus?
To be totally honest, I never understood the backlash. Most bands put in years of work and never receive a dime (something I know very well). If at some point after the band's breakup there is suddenly a demand, who's to say that there's something wrong with a reunion? Who gains something by NOT playing? Who is hurt if they do? If the band is still strong enough, and they can withstand the inevitable stamp of novelty; why not?
You, yourself have been involved in reuniting some of your previous bands. We have seen one-off shows from Token Entry and Black Train Jack in recent years and pretty much a full-fledged GreyArea reunion (new music and all) back in 2011. What is it that makes you want to continue bringing these bands out from time-to-time and should we continue to expect more of that?
Well, to be perfectly honest, the thing that keeps me bringing the bands back is the opportunity to play a big show, see a lot of friends and rock out. It’s not much more than that; However, I also want to try to keep the band in a good light, and a prevalent part of history. Token Entry was an important part of NYHC, both in its own right and in the music that came after it from its members like Gorilla Biscuits, Killing Time, Black Train Jack, etc. I'd like to do whatever I can to keep the band forever in the conversation of the classic NYHC hardcore bands.
Is there a specific band of yours that you enjoy/enjoyed playing with the most? Or one that you haven’t reunited and wish you would/could?
I would have to say In Your Face. That band was a sanctuary for me. Every band has its high points and its low points. In Your Face, the high points were absolutely exhilarating, and the low points were at their worst, funny self-deprecating mishaps. I remember one time we all chipped every dime we had to rent a van, drove hours up to Albany just to find out the show was canceled. Instead of anger, and finger pointing, we all laughed at our luck and spent the rest of the day in a Chucky Cheese ball pit. Complete idiots. I loved it.
At this point, do you ever miss playing in an active band and writing, recording performing new material?
I am constantly coming up with ideas for bands, band names, songs, melodies… everything. Just like I did in high school. Do I miss being in an active band? Not as much, but only because I don't have the time to focus on it. The minute I do have the time though, it will consume my every thought again and I'll be doing something.
The signature of the bands you have been in has always been melodies, melodies, melodies (and solos by Jason). Tell me a little bit about your songwriting process and how you have always been so able to write a catchy hook?
I can't tell you how I come up with the catchy hook because I really don't know myself. I will usually just start humming something, notice that I'm humming it, and there it is. Done. The songwriting process however, is exactly the same as the illustration/design process: Put everything you have on the table, and slowly remove things to simplify, simplify, simplify. When you reach the point that removing something hurts rather than helps, you're probably close to being done. Each and every part should then relate to each other in a way that you can describe with words. Not "it’s cool" or "I like it" but a real objective reasoning for how things interact. As for Jason, he's easily twice the guitarist I am. No joke.
You have always kind of been doing the Hellgate Industries type of work for bands. What was behind the push to actually make it something more solidified by giving it a name, website, brand, etc?
Well, yes I have always been doing album covers and merch for bands, but why did I make it for lack of a better term "official" with gig posters, and a name and all that? That’s an interesting question and I think it's because it's almost the same thing as starting a band. You try to promote something. Give it a name, and a logo, and an all-around "vibe." You start from the ground up. People start hearing about you and you watch your seeds grow. It's pretty awesome. Only difference is that I’m totally alone, which is both good and bad (see the importance of comradery above).
It can’t be easy doing all that you do with Hell Gate Industries on your own, on top of working a full-time day job and being a father of two. What motivates you to keep doing this work? And what has been the most rewarding aspect of it?
The most rewarding aspect by far is watching the "likes" and the love they get. Sometimes it's overwhelming. There are a couple of people out there that have almost every single one I've done. I receive pictures of them all hanging up in rooms of their house. It's just like playing onstage in front of a crowd that’s really into it and knows every word. To see the fruits of your labor be so widely appreciated is super special to me.
My favorite part of the images that you create for show posters is that you often find a way to incorporate something specific that a band is known for into the finished product. Sometimes it's subtle sometimes it's clear as day. What does that thought process look like for you? And why do you feel that to be an important element to these prints?
First of all - Thank you for that! That’s exactly what I’m after. I look at each one of these posters like an editorial illustration assignment. I like for the poster to have an inside message that will only make pure and complete sense to those who know the band well. A lot of it also has to do with the style in which it's rendered. I try to do these posters in completely different styles, different approaches, to match the message that I'm trying to put forth, rather than to stay true to one specific style. I can't communicate the sentiment in a Brian Fallon poster as well if I try to do it in the same hand as an Explosion poster.
I remember texting you once and you responding saying something along the lines of “After I finish this Rancid project and I can breathe again”. Tell me a little about the work that you have done and continue to do with Rancid and how did that relationship materialize.
I've known the Rancid guys for decades. Since Black Train Jack and before, actually. But yes, I do a lot of Rancid work. In 2013 I did a Rancid/Tim Timebomb poster that was a skeleton dressed up like Tim with a guitar strapped around his back. What I didn't know right there was that I was inventing "Skele-Tim." That image has exploded into almost everything now, and I (and many other artists) have included him in many Rancid merch items. Last summer we did city specific Skele-Tim shirts, and I was burning through them to get them done. I take a lot of pride in doing Rancid merch. They are one of the great American Punk bands of all time, in league with the Ramones and Dead Boys in my eyes, and I will usually move heaven and earth to work with them. Not only are they great, but they also have pretty much the best management I've ever worked with.
You have done multiple prints for a lot of the bands that you work with. Why do you think bands keep coming back to you for this work?
Well I hope it’s because they like what they're getting! Haha. I'm constantly hearing from bands that they are selling out before they even take the stage. I also make it extremely simple to work with me. I charge them nothing. I work out a deal that makes them essentially free for them.
How is the dynamic different from working with a band in this capacity as opposed to music related collaborations?
It's actually very similar. I will work with a band to arrive at a design that excites everyone involved, just the same as when you're working on the arrangement for a song. The only difference is that a song is a song. It stands for nothing but itself. It lives on its own merit. A poster has a little bit of advertising in its DNA. It represents everything from the event to the band itself. It used to be that a band was psyched to just get them, no matter what was on it. I wonder if Coop and Kurt Cobain went back and forth for days to arrive at a pimple-ridden teenager picking a giant snot out of his nose. Somehow I doubt it, although I could be wrong. I remember being on tour as a musician and a guy would walk up to the merch table and just drop 50 posters down and say "I made these for the gig tonight". No permission, no approvals, no questions. Just an artistic expression - of his or her own - with my band name at the top. Nonetheless, I was psyched to get it. But now it's grown into an expected piece of merch, and in some cases, expected of me in particular. I've gotten emails from people asking if I was going to do the next Rancid or Propagandhi poster before I even knew the gig was happening.
Did you really design the Foo Fighters logo?
Yes I did, but not on purpose. A long time ago Sick Of It All’s manager Trevor also worked at Nasty Little Man, and he used to send me small illustration/ merch gigs. One day he hit me with an emergency project where Foo Fighters needed a tour shirt that same day. At that time I was working on a different project called “Uncool Clothing” started by Black Train Jack drummer Nick Forlano where everything had a feel to it inspired by old American automotive and appliance logos. While in that mindset, I quickly drew out the shapes for the F’s and put them in a red circle. Done. People online are looking for the font, but there isn’t one. I did it. Next thing I know it’s everywhere and now it’s one of the most recognized logos in the world. Go figure.
Is there a band that you have yet to do a print for that you would really like to connect with on that level?
YES. Iggy Pop, Descendants and Alkaline Trio headline my wish list. I did make a Descendants/Token Entry flyer when we both played CBGB’s in the 80's but that doesn’t count. The thing is, I never do these without expressed permission. I guess I could just do them and hand them over, but I’ve never done it like that.