Ivor Hanson of D.C. Hardcore Legends The Faith
by Interviews

Name the most iconic DC Hardcore bands and The Faith are sure to be near the top of that list. While the band only lasted a few years, they left an indelible mark on the scene, and on punk as a whole, with their iconic Subject to Change EP and the titanic Faith/Void Split LP. (You can tell a lot about person by looking which side of that record is more worn). Aside from those two releases and a demo released about ten yeas ago, there isn't a whole lot more Faith material out there…

Until now! The band recently found a live recording of them playing their third ever show… at CBGBS!… opening for the Bad Brains! And let me tell you, the record does not disappoint. It's fast, it's furious, it's emotional, it's what early hardcore is all about. And it's also out via Outer Battery records right now as Faith - Live at CBGB's.

To learn a little bit about this recently discovered treat, Punknews' John Gentile spoke to drummer Ivor Hanson about the release, his early days in SOA, and what it's like to look back and hear your younger self! Check it out below.

This show was Faith's third show…and you were opening for the Bad Brains! What was going through your head prior to the performance? Plenty was going through my head before we played, all of it informed by either elation or dread. Part of me was exhilarated that we were here- Here at CB’s! Here to play with the Bad Brains! As Michael has said, it “seemed so pro” and that was so true. The wonder, the honor, the luck of having this show was definitely with me. Not that I was walking around in a haze… I was too ultra-aware of my surroundings for that, but I definitely had an inner smile.

Still, perhaps that inner smile prevented me from having the presence of mind to case the club as Alec did in order to, as he has put it, “make it mine.” I was just relieved we’d made it to CB’s in time for sound check, and, moreover, that the Bad Brains were cool with us using their equipment. That had me feeling even more lucky.

Even so, now we that we were at CB’s, now that we could play, how would I play? I remember as I sat down behind Earl’s kit before our first set feeling so thrilled even as my wrists tightened up and my palms began to sweat… just like that! They hadn’t during sound check and I suddenly pictured myself screwing up songs and my sticks slipping out of my hands. It’s not on the record, but I do remember having to play through Earl’s drum set a lot- the cymbals, the toms, and especially the hi-hat and snare- to loosen my wrists before we went into "It’s Time." And I recall having wipe my palms on my jeans between songs.

Listening back to the live recording now- what resonates with you? Well, speaking of "It’s Time", when I first heard the tape, I was just relieved that I was on beat; that I wasn’t fucking up. Of course, I remember the show, but I didn’t remember the set list order. Actually, I was pretty sure we opened with It’s Time since we usually did. That was just as well, since its not being super-fast allowed me to warm up before tackling faster songs like Another Victim, which was the next song we played.

As I didn’t know (or simply forgot) that Michael had even had a tape of the show made, what resonates is the disconcerting experience of having a long-held silent memory of a seminal event suddenly possessing a soundtrack.

What resonates, too, are Michael’s guitar and Alec’s vocals. Each has - and more so together - this aggressive, honest urgency that makes the songs ring true. Michael’s guitar sounds like Chris’s amazing from-his-soul lyrics, just like Alec’s vocals embody the words. Chris’s bass and my drums, the rhythm section, (or perhaps in a punk context, the mayhem section) by definition, lie in the background of the guitar and vocals, so the two of are not as pronounced, at least to me. Taken all together, then, what ultimately resonates is just how passionate the band sounds, emotions at the forefront by way of borrowed drums, bass, guitar, and a microphone. Or maybe Alec brought a microphone?

On the counterpoint, listening to early recordings of a band playing their third show can be like looking at an awkward high school photo- do any of those feelings crop up with this album? For sure! I hear my mistakes all over the place. Actually, I listen for them. I’m playing off-beat way too many times. That’s a drag since with super-fast half-beat songs, if you’re playing off-beat you’re beating the song down instead of pushing it forward. I’m also rattling away on the drums way too much between songs way as a way to burn off nervous energy. But what I most notice is that I play the bass drum way too much on Outlet. It distracts from the power of Chris’s bass line, and Michael’s guitar, and Alec’s singing. Outlet is supposed to be a kind of hypnotic drone, but my over- playing the bass drum breaks that spell. I know this is all too drummery, but those are my cringing, wincing, mortifying moments.

On the release you cover "Stepping Stone." A lot of the DC bands played this song, as did a lot of punk bands in general. Why was that song THE song to cover for so many bands? I think punk bands cover "Stepping Stone" for the sheer pleasure of taking a quintessential bubble gum song and recasting it as an aggressive declaration. Actually, let me take a bit of that back. Stepping Stone is not really quintessential bubble gum; I’d describe The Monkees’s Daydream Believer that way. Compared to that song, saying you’re not someone’s stepping-stone is a pretty powerful message. At the same time, Stepping Stone is a fun song to play, especially as a drummer. You’ve got the part of the song with all the rolls on the toms and you’ve got all those punky half-beats at the end.

Now what’s funny is that here I am talking about the reasons punk bands play "Stepping Stone" and yet when I was listening to the Faith: Live at CBGB’s tape, I’d completely forgotten that Faith had ever played Stepping Stone. I didn’t remember us rehearsing it at any practice or performing it at any show. It makes me wonder if we played it at our first show, which took place a month before the CB’s show at a high school gym in Virginia, or our second show, a few weeks later, where we opened for Black Flag in D.C. at the old 9:30 Club, or how much longer we played it after the CB’s show.

Faith is one of the seminal DC bands. Was the relationship of the band members one of camaraderie, which is why the recordings are so good, or maybe it was one of antagonism, ala the Ramones, which is what caused the band to be so fiery? As with most any band, you’re going to have disagreements, if not strife, just as you’re going to bond and collaborate. And Faith had all that going on. But for me at least, the phrase “Up to a point” comes to mind. By that I mean we had camaraderie up to a point, just as we had dissension up to a point. That’s just how it was, with camaraderie far outweighing the other. Michael was coming up with great songs; Chris was coming up with songs, too- along with the band’s distinctive logo! - and incisive lyrics which, as I recall, Alec helped out on as well. We were all coming together to make the songs work, play shows, and go into the recording studio. We knew we had something good and we just wanted to make it better, and we did so by focusing on the songs.

Faith, along with some of the other DC hardcore bands, have directly influenced the mindset and philosophy of hundreds of thousands of punkers. What's it like knowing that your 18-year-old self profoundly influenced so many people, even through their current adulthood? That the band has influenced so many people is, in a word, wonderful. How could it not be, you know? I’m very proud of the band’s lasting impact. But I will also always find Faith’s resonance surprising. We knew at the time that fellow punkers in DC liked us from how our shows went over. We knew at the time that the Faith/Void album was being well received in the DC area and even beyond. But then after we broke up and Subject to Change came out a few months later and that proved popular - I have to say I really like that record- and then the records just kept selling along the way. Add to that people like Kurt Cobain, Thurston Moore, and Eddie Vedder all being fans and, well, it certainly made clear to me that Faith was more appreciated than I thought.

I think that Faith being part of the DC punk scene helped us get attention since there were plenty of other bands worth checking out and listening to, if not learning from. Call it a case of “Come for Minor Threat.. and then discover all these other great groups as well!” So, while we were good, we were also in the right place at the right time.

Ultimately, the band’s being influential I find quite gratifying and mind blowing. I think that part of what explains our appeal is we came off as relatable, as accessible: the punks next door. Our songs let you in. And we were human, in that when we played a show it could go really well or it could not and I really think our fans identified with that.

You were in SOA, Faith, and Embrace, among others. But, not a lot of people are aware of how you got involved in the music scene to begin with. How did you get involved in music, and punk? I got involved in music by way of my older sisters, such that my twin brother and I were avid Beatles fans by age five. We listened to them, we listened to Top Forty radio, we listened to our dad’s Sinatra and Glenn Miller records. So music got to me, got inside me, very early on. In third grade, when I attended a talent show at my older sisters’ school at which a student band performed. Seeing the drummer up onstage banging away on his glitter-blue drum set, it just clicked: that’s what I want to do; that’s what I need to be. My parents had me take piano lessons (I took just one) and guitar (I took a couple) but I wanted to play the drums. Eventually I started taking lessons in sixth-grade and that’s how it started.

As for the DC punk scene, that came by attending GDS (Georgetown Day School) for high school. When I started in tenth-grade there in the fall of 1979, Lyle Preslar was in 11th grade, Michael Hampton, Brian Baker, Guy Picciotto, Lydia Ely, and Donald Keesing were in ninth-grade (Dante Ferrando and Mark Hagerty also went there, but were a bit younger), and so I was pretty aware of the punk scene from then on. Flyers for shows were posted around school, students talked about gigs, and I came to know about Minor Threat and S.O.A. since I knew them at school. In the spring of 1980, I played a drum solo for the school’s talent show - yes, I thought of that other drummer - making Michael aware that I played the drums. When S.O.A. needed a drummer a year later, Michael asked me if I wanted to join. I said yes, changing my life.

Since Henry left S.O.A. to join Black Flag, I only played one show with the band. But what a show: S.O.A. opened for Black Flag in Philadelphia, with Henry playing a few songs with Black Flag that night, and, oh, yeah, a riot took place when local toughs didn’t appreciate all these out-of-town punks being in their neighborhood. It was pretty bad, pretty harrowing, involving thrown bricks, smashed bottles, and straight razors.

Anyway, being in S.O.A. led to my being in Faith, Embrace, Manifesto, and Clear with Michael and I am so lucky to have been with him in all those bands. He is so talented. And also very funny.

As I understand, you lived in the South Pacific for a while and stopped playing drums before briefly playing with a soft rock band. Why did you stop playing drums during that time? I effectively stopped playing the drums when I went to graduate school in 1997. I gave my drums to a band that needed a set and that was that. Done. The time had come to leave music behind and focus on writing: I had majored in English in college; I was now at journalism school. A couple years later, though, my wife’s work with the UN took us to the South Pacific, to Bougainville, where we lived in the town of Arawa.

Arawa, a former mining town, was working to recover from a de-facto civil war- destroyed infrastructure; a peacekeeping force; jobless ex-teen combatants – and yet it sported a recording studio bankrolled by a former rebel who was a big fan of Sting. As it turned out, the studio band’s drummer had to return to his village and so I filled in for him. To quote the bass player in the band: “Let the white man play.” We performed a couple of shows for politicians, dignitaries, and villagers entertaining them (and trussed up pigs at the foot of one stage that would be slaughtered for a post-gig feast) with such songs as Bob Marley’s One Love, Simply Red’s Holding Back the Years, and even We Are The World. Quite an experience.

Are you playing drums now? What are you up to music or writing wise? Does tapping on the steering wheel as I drive constitute drumming? oes playing along in my head to whatever’s on the radio qualify? If so, then yes.

As for writing, I’m working on “cool”, a YA-ish novel. In “cool”, Jack relays how he skips out on ninth-grade for a day in December. The fifteen-year-old kid takes the train to New York City in order to carry out his plan of punking out so that he can become, well, cool. As he makes his way through Manhattan, Jack meets an array of people -- Curtis, Roxie, Mio, Easton, Joey, Raze -- and begins to sort out not so much what “cool” means, but who he is beginning to be. And, yeah, Jack also has to deal with his annoying parents.

Thanks Ivor! Any other comments? Simply that my being a part of DC’s punk scene proved very influential to me. Among other things it showed me that believing in yourself as well as something larger than yourself -- a band; a scene -- can help you accomplish a lot. Of course, one doesn’t need to be into punk rock to learn such a lesson. But that being the case means I gained such knowledge while also playing shows, recording albums, and being bands with Henry, Wendell, Alec, Chris, Eddie, Ian, Bert and Michael. In short, I am really lucky.