Monday, April 27, 2020

Interview with Tony Bertolino from Bent Blue

Every once in a while I come across a piece of music that GRABS me; not just in the sense that I like the music because that happens somewhat frequently, I mean the delivery and especially the lyrics connect with me in a way that draws me in and makes me want to learn more. When I heard the demo from San Diego's Bent Blue a month or two ago, I definitely had that feeling. The band plays a refreshing style of hardcore punk that combines speed and melody, and is topped off by vocalist Tony Bertolino's earnest delivery & lyrics. The demo is raw yet crisp and warrants repeated listens. I connected with Tony over IG and we had the following exchange.

"Between Your and You're" is available now on cassette tape from War Records (which is run by Andrew Kline from Strife).  

I’m always interested in learning about people’s backstory a little bit, so tell me about yourself, your family, and your childhood. Are there any particular moments or events that you would say significantly shaped you/your outlook?

I was born in San Diego to a pretty normal middle-class family. I'm the oldest of four kids. My dad was enlisted in the Marines and later the Army, so I moved about 15 times before starting high school. Moving so frequently early on was often a bummer in the friend department, but I have great memories from the various communities we lived in and cultures we acclimated to. 

For instance, we lived in Savannah, Georgia for about six years, which was by far the longest I've lived anywhere outside of California. I was only five when we moved there, and it's where I had my first meaningful experiences with music. My dad was a jazz buff, and as a family we would sometimes go down to River Street, which has a sort of French Quarters thing going on. We'd watch the street musicians and I remember being mesmerized by their playing. It spawned a lifelong love of jazz and music in general. Savannah was also where I gained a love for art, which is now a major part of my life and my career as a designer. I'd say those were some of the positives of moving so much.

The last placed we were ever stationed was in Colorado. It was around the time the Iraq War broke out and I was almost 14. My dad had been deployed to Iraq for 8 months when we got a knock on the door by two men in uniforms. They informed us my dad had been shot and killed in an ambush. That experience shaped my life and who I am in a major way. I love and miss my dad every day, and I'm super grateful for a strong mom who raised us four kids on her own. That being said, the Iraq War was pointless. My dad died for nothing. As I've gotten older, that reality seems to sting more and more and has taught me to be distrustful of government.

Hoooooly shit, I am so sorry to hear about your loss.

As a young kid how did you cope and adjust to a loss of that magnitude? As the oldest of four, did you feel the need to “step up” so to speak and take on additional responsibility within the household?

My mom was a huge source of comfort. She's a major positive force in my life and she was a rock through everything. She helped us navigate the storm by staying lovingly consistent, level-headed, and transparent. At the same time, there was a feeling that as the oldest kid I needed to be there for her. I felt she needed to rely on me to help her, particularly with my younger siblings. When I got my driver's license it was a lot of pick-ups, drop-offs, running errands, being there for my brothers at sporting events, taking my sister to daddy-daughter dances at school, etc. I also feel fortunate to have found kids at my new high school who introduced me to the idea of straight edge. That helped distance me from coping in more harmful ways. 

How did you ultimately move from a love of jazz to finding your way into punk and hardcore?

My mom moved us back to California when I was 14 and I began high school in a little suburban town in Riverside County. I was new and didn't know anyone at school, so I would sit at lunch by myself. I noticed this group of kids who looked like they skated or rode BMX who sat at a table near me. One day I decided to just sit at their table. It was awkward as hell, but they were cool to me and I eventually started hanging out with them regularly outside of school. I started writing graffiti with a few of them, and one afternoon while we were coordinating a nighttime excursion, one of the guys showed me a Casey Jones song, which is so funny to me now. That was my introduction to hardcore. I was already into pop punk by that point from having skated in middle school, and that helped me connect with some of the riffs. About that same time I began going to house shows and found that a bunch of my friends from school were in bands. We'd go support them and ended up forming this crew of kids who would always go to shows together. We had a bunch of little makeshift venues in our town that we frequented, but Showcase, Chain Reaction, and Che Cafe were the main venues we'd hit when touring bands came to our area. 

For a while the music simply served as an emotional and physical release for a pent up kid. I think the moment hardcore really imprinted on me the way jazz did was when I got ahold of lyrics for Have Heart's song "Armed With a Mind". The lyrics really struck me. I found the things that drew me to jazz also drew me to bands like Have Heart. Like bebop and forms of progressive jazz, the style of hardcore that Have Heart played was genuine, intelligent, ugly, high-energy, often misunderstood, and could be fast as hell. Pat Flynn's honesty also really stood out to me, and I loved that Heave Heart was a band of normal guys playing music that was as thoughtful and consciously aware as it was aggressive and pissed, yet never brutal or dark. That was when the wires connected for me and the light came on. I recognized that hardcore and punk could be a means of delivering an earnest and thoughtful message to a group of people who may never have found that message anywhere else. Obviously bands had been doing that for decades, but it was a revelation to me.

What in Savannah specifically sparked your interest in visual art and design?

I can't say anything stands out in particular. Savannah is just a beautiful town. It's old, lush, and filled with cool details. I think the real spark stemmed more from the fact that my elementary school in Savannah had a great arts program and my parents were supportive of my interest in art.

As a dude in the Midwest, the idea of having venues like the Che and the Showcase in your own backyard seems so wild, but I also wonder if I’m idealizing it or blowing it out of proportion haha. What was it like having those kinds of spots around? Did people out there seem to take stuff like that for granted or was there a sense that you had something special on your hands?

I think most of us were clueless to how special those spots are/were. I think there's something about being young and living in the moment where you're kind of unaware of what you have until it's gone. I mean, we would go to shows every weekend and it was just normal for us. I'm sure the older heads got it, but I didn't. I really wish Showcase was still around. It was the perfect venue in my mind. Fortunately Che is still open, despite multiple attempts to shut it down. That place has had some heavy hitters come through. Bent Blue was lucky enough to play our second show there and it was a really exciting experience; an opportunity I never imagined having as a 15 year old watching bands like Allegiance, Have Heart, and Verse on that stage. 

It’s interesting that you mention Pat from Have Heart and his lyrics in particular because when I first came across your demo, the lyrics are definitely what jumped out at me most prominently. I was struck by your ability to take really broad social issues like guns or immigration and talk about them in a way that captures both the breadth of those issues while at the same time writing about them in a way that paints a picture of how they impact individuals. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about your process for writing lyrics, as well as who else might be influences on your work, both inside hardcore and beyond it.

appreciate you saying that. I don't think my process for writing lyrics is too out of the ordinary. I have a small notebook I keep on me. During the day I'll have themes or topics that weigh on my mind that stem from conversations I have with people, things I read, or things I listen to. A lot of times they're themes that piss me off in a deep way. I'll usually scribble those ideas down haphazardly and save them as a resource until the band writes a song that feels sonically appropriate. We make phone recordings at the end of each practice to refer to during the week. Before I have lyrics I'll just kind of insert gibberish that feels right phonetically or rhythmically over the music. When I'm actually writing I'll refer to those recordings as the blueprint and try to lay down lyrics in those spots.

When writing lyrics, my influences usually come either from my own experiences and observations or those of friends and family. When I get writer's block, I'll sometimes ask friends or family about their experiences related to the topic to get a different point of view and to develop talking points. Other times I'll pull inspiration from the perspectives of other artists. Like I'll hunt for songs or poems that loosely touch the subject. For example, for "They Ask Why" it was The Dicks "Hate the Police" and Zero Boys "Civilization's Dying". For "Between Your and You're" it was Have Heart's "Machinist" and a poem called "Things We Carry on the Sea" by Wang Ping. The snottiness of "Influence Me" probably came from a heavy rotation of Dead Kennedy's and Minor Threat during that time. That approach usually helps spark ideas in ways to express my opinions. Not what to say, but how to say it using literary device, if that makes sense.

So “Between Your and You’re” obviously tackles the issue of immigration directly....I know for me as a middle aged (fuck!) white dude in the Midwest, when Trump started campaigning on an overtly xenophobic message and when the “build the wall” chants became a centerpiece of his campaign, I was completely repulsed by the hostility it expressed; a hostility both to people of Hispanic origin and more fundamentally to what I see as the core ideals of the United States. Living in Southern California I imagine the reaction must have been even more visceral. I guess I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that message hit your ears, and the ears of people where you live, and what sort of reaction you’ve seen to Trump’a policies on immigration and the border. 

As you can probably imagine, there is a deep feeling of anger for and hurt from Trump and his administration here in Southern California that stems from his xenophobic and racist attitudes toward immigrants and refugees. Before Trump was even considered a candidate, I remember being disgusted by his racist attitudes toward people of color in the way he advocated for racist and unfounded conspiracy theories concerning the validity of Barack Obama's country of birth. It was later when he made the "rapists" comments during the beginning of his campaign that I realized what we'd be in for if he became president. He has consistently shown an astonishing level of disregard for people he deems different than himself in the way he treats the lives of these "others" as worthless.  

Trump's actions have been largely hateful and heinous. One of the most appalling examples to me personally was through his policy of family separation. In my eyes, the US government kidnapped children. To make things worse, the DHS initially lied about the policy to save face, which meant that the record-keeping processes were not updated for the wave of separations. Thousands of children were not only stripped from their loved ones, but the US had no way of reconnecting many of the families they were tearing apart. I feel for those children and their parents and I am repulsed by what Trump did. And the list goes on. Our city shares a border with Mexico and it has shaped the identity of our region in a positive way. I've largely seen our community unify and resist in response to Trumps policies. 

I think it would help for us all to consider the situations of others. Asking questions like what would you do if you were faced with a do-or-die situation that threatened your family? Would it matter, and should it matter where you are from if it meant you had to flee? My wife is an immigrant who was without papers and faced deportation for most of her life. Her mom, a beautiful and intelligent woman with a masters degree from her home-country was forced to flee with her daughter from a violent situation. She came to the US where her education was deemed useless. Without papers, she worked as a maid. The chemicals she used from that job were later considered a contributing factor to the brain-cancer that killed her. I guess what I'm getting at is, this stuff is complex. Let's treat humans like humans and consider what it would be like to experience the painfully difficult shit others are forced to experience just to live in relative safety.

You guys obviously just announced a partnership with War Records to get the demo out on cassette. How did you establish a relationship with Andrew and are you guys scheming on anything together beyond the tape release?

Yeah, we just started working with War Records to put the demo out on tape and to do a limited run of shirts that benefit the International Rescue Committee, San Diego chapter. We're super honored to work with someone like Andrew who's got decades of experience in hardcore. During the COVID lockdown we digitally "met" Andrew after sending War the link to our demo. We were scheduled to play a really cool show with his band Berthold City at Che literally the week that social distancing measures went into place. I think being on the same bill, paired with the release of the demo put us on his radar. As for the future, we've had discussions, but nothing planned for right now.

How are you guys managing the lock down sitch we’re all in....have you found any creative ways to work in music or at least stay connected with each other as a band?

We hold weekly Zoom check-ins. A lot of the lockdown has been dedicated to building relationships, planning, making art for the band, working with War, getting merch made, and thinking about future records. We've also been stockpiling riffs and learning a few covers since we can't practice together yet.

What’s next for you guys?

We're currently planning a potential split and reaching out to a few bands to put that in motion. We hope to move fast on it, but a lot depends on how long social distancing measures are needed.

For people not from your area, give us three local bands people probably don’t know about that they should seek out, and talk a little bit about what makes each one noteworthy.

Three San Diego bands you should seek out:

1) Glean on New Morality Zine. Powerful, youthful melodic hardcore that blurs the lines between Hüsker Du, Title Fight, and Anxious. They're buddies of ours and we love to see them receive well-deserved credit. 

2) Headcount on Safe Inside Records. Danny, who plays guitar, was the vocalist for San Diego band Drug Control and also books for Che. The band has a solid, straightforward youth-crew sound in the same vein as Carry On and In My Eyes.

3) Vile Reality. They've got this mean, old school hardcore punk sound that reminds me of Negative Approach. I'm excited to see them live. Vocalist is Aaron from Orange County's Dare and drummer is Dylen from San Diego's Spirited Away.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Interview with Jacob Scott from Piece of Mind

Piece of Mind is a heavy hardcore band from Oklahoma who channel hardcore's finest such as Turmoil, Buried Alive, and Axis among others. They first caught my attention when I saw Trip Machine releasing a collection of their first few e.p.'s. Knowing that Chris only pumps out top notch quality, I tracked down that LP as well as their brand new split with Miracle Drug.

The band recently announced they will be partnering with Safe Inside Records going forward, and should have a new batch of material out later this year. That, coupled with their pretty active tour schedule will mean they are a band you will hear a lot more about this year and into the future.

I recently connected with guitarist Jacob Scott about growing up in Oklahoma, working as a recording engineer, and of course tearing it up with Piece of Mind. Read on.

Alright so talk a little bit about growing up in Oklahoma. The only thing I know about your state is that Barry Sanders played at OSU, which on its own makes it legendary and worthy of praise (-:

Growing up in Oklahoma is different for a lot of people. I grew up in a pretty rural area on a cattle farm, whereas the rest of the band grew up in other small towns and cities, so my experience is probably pretty different. I didn't really have anyone around me that shared my interests at all, so I had to travel an hour or two just to skate and make friends. 

How were you introduced to punk and hardcore? What bands, venues, etc. made an early impression on you?

I got into punk through my older sister's boyfriend when I was 10. He gave her a burnt CD of like 30 MxPx songs, which she in turn gave to me. I was always obsessed with music as a kid (and now, really) so I would buy every CD I could and scour the liner notes for other bands to check out. Thanks to various magazines, I had heard about the first wave of hardcore bands, but I had no idea that it was still a thing. Finding bands like Bane and Carry On through the internet changed my life. I'll never forget hearing "Ante Up" and being completely hooked in. I can't imagine what I'd be doing now if I hadn't heard that. Probably dead. 

How did your family and friends react when you started falling into skating, punk and hardcore

For the most part my family didn’t know what I was getting into. I was a weird, private person growing up. I probably still am. They knew about the skating, but only peripherally knew about what kind of music I was into, and pretty much zero idea about the subculture aspect.

At what point were you able to start getting out to shows, and what things about the live music experience stuck out to you? 

I started going to shows probably around the age of 14. A lot of it was small local or regional bands for the first couple of years. I think the first proper hardcore show I went to was Bane and Comeback Kid. No clue how I convinced my parents to drop a 14 y/o off at the sketchiest venue in Tulsa by myself. The moshing, the was the first time I’d seen anything like it. That energy and passion has been something I’ve been chasing ever since. 

I think CBK/Bane must have been what, like 06'? What was the scene like in Tulsa at that time and how has it evolved and changed over the last decade plus? 

If my memory is correct, I think it was early 2005. 

I didn’t spend much time in Tulsa in the early/mid-00’s since I lived a couple hours away at the time, so my recollection might be different from someone who lived there. But from what I experienced as an outsider, hardcore had a really strong presence. You still had young people getting into guitar music. There were always a lot of mixed bills, lots of venues, lots of great local bands outside of hardcore as well. It’s a pretty stark contrast to 2019. These days there’s only a couple hardcore bands in Tulsa proper, and only a handful of notable bands in general. There’s really only a few places to play as well, and kids just aren’t getting into guitar music. It’s really been a struggle to get new kids into it. 

At what point did you start playing in bands, booking shows, etc.? 

I started playing in little garage bands around 13, but started playing out in real bands when I was about 16/17. I never really got into booking outside of one or two shows. My thing has always been recording bands. The first time I ever inquired about studio time, I was blown away by how much it cost, which in reality probably wasn’t an unreasonable amount, just a lot for a kid. From then on, I was obsessed with learning it myself. Since then I’ve made some really cool records with people I admire a lot. 

Give a little bit of background about how you got into the recording game. Were you talking to other engineers about techniques and gear, using online tutorials, or just learning by doing?

I got into recording pretty much out of necessity. I borrowed a friend’s 4-track TASCAM tape recorder and recorded all of my first bands stuff with one Radio Shack mic that I got at a garage sale. Around that time, I was running sound for a church, and got a lot of hands-on time with a large analog console. Since I had to record the services to cassette, I learned a lot about mixing in the analog world. An analog workflow is something I miss.

My older sister was in college at the time, and would give me her old college textbooks on acoustics and engineering, which I spent a lot of time reading and trying to apply those principles. While I had the Internet, it was a dial-up connection and I had no idea there was a community out there of people into recording, so I was pretty much learning on my own. 

What are some of your favorite projects you've been able to do? 

As far as favorite projects, I’d have to say every record I did for Free At Last was something special to me, especially their final album. Dream Ritual is another that holds a special place for me. We made that record with the intent of it being a demo of sorts, and ended up becoming a 12” on 6131. Youth Pool’s “Dive In” and Muscle Before Paradise’s “Die In Combat” are two records that still get heavy rotation for me.

Obviously, the recording process can be tedious and stressful, especially if performances are not coming out as desired, if there is tension building between members, etc. As an engineer, how do you navigate those times and what tactics if any have you found to be effective in sort of moderating the experience for bands? 

I try to take a pretty relaxed attitude in the studio. My philosophy is that the artist knows how they want the song to be played, and I can usually tell the difference between playing poorly and playing with a certain attitude or affect. However, it doesn’t stop band members from being hard on themselves or whoever happens to be sitting in the hot seat at the time. If it gets to that point, I’ll have them take a break, eat something, watch some dumb videos on YouTube or listen to E-40 at an unreasonable level. Sometimes you just have to break the tension.

With Free At Last, when Chandler would have a problem with a guitar part, the pants came off and you didn’t get to put your pants back on until the part was right. That was usually the magic cure. 

A lot of the time a nice studio is daunting to people, so I want it to feel like a comfortable, welcome space that bands feel like they can be creative and try things or mess up sometimes and it’s not the end of the world. 

Alright so let's get to Piece of Mind. How long had you guys known each other and how did you come together as a band? What were some of the key influences you wanted to integrate, be they musically or otherwise? 

Aside from Duston and Drew being in a band together previously, we were all had been friends for at least a couple years. Our scene is small and tight knit, so even if we didn’t hang out, we still knew each other. 

At the time the band started, Drew was playing drums in a band and wanted to front a band instead, so he hit up Tyson and I. We had been practicing for probably a couple weeks and had our demo written before Duston was brought in. We played as a 4-piece for the first year or so that we were a band. Tyson moved back to Massachusetts and plays in Maniac now. We cycled through a couple different drummers for a minute before we landed with Luis, and I couldn’t imagine the band without him now. We added Skyler on second guitar around that same time. 

Originally, the thought was that we would do a Blacklisted-worship band. That was scrapped probably the first day once we actually started writing the demo. While I don’t think we had any conscious influences that we wanted to pull from, we definitely had a mission: play the exact opposite of what we should do. It was mostly a reaction to the slow and heavy stuff around us at the time. As we grew into our own thing, the influences definitely started coming out more. One King Down, Integrity, Buried Alive, Turmoil, even bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice In Chains are big influences that I hear in our songs. 

I assume you have a pretty large hand in the riff writing department...what would you say inspires you to sit down and write? Do you tend to wait until you are inspired by a particular experience, or are you just sort of constantly working on things here and there until you find something that feels right?

Most of these songs are born out of a few riffs that I’ll come to the band with. Sometimes I’ll have a complete song, but I think having other people contribute and bounce ideas off of is the way to go usually. 

Between managing a restaurant, making records and design work, I stay pretty busy and don’t get much (if any) free time. So I try to have a guitar in my hands if I’m sitting down watching tv for an hour or so and flesh out all the ideas that have popped in my head throughout the week. 

The "Trilogy" release obviously compiles your first 3 recordings and bundles them all together. What sort of growth do you feel like the band achieved throughout those writing sessions, and how'd you guys hook up with Chris and Geoff at Trip Machine? 

I think “Trilogy” captured a great snapshot of our progression. From us figuring ourselves out on “Kiss of Peace”, exploring new areas on “Harsh Reality”, and refining that sound on “Despise b/w Nation of Fear”, you see us maturing as a band, refining the things we do well and cutting out the things we don’t. 

We linked up with TML through our friends in Miracle Drug. They wanted to do a split with us, and we happened to be coming through the Hudson Valley on tour, so Chris came and saw us. He wanted to do the split, but also kicked the idea to do a vinyl release of our discography. We’ve since become fast friends and I really enjoy Chris a lot. Very thankful to have a team like TML in our corner. 

Yeah, talk about your relationship with Miracle Drug. How'd you get to know those gents, and how did you arrive at the idea of working together for the split? 

We first met Miracle Drug on our very first tour in 2016 when we played together in Louisville. We were instantly big fans and became friends pretty quickly. We play Louisville a fair amount, so they’re kind of our brother band. Matt Weider came to us about doing a split around the same time he mentioned it to TML. Our mutual friend and artist Codak Smith did the art for that record, in a sort of homage to the Uniform Choice demo artwork.

We’re super happy with how that record came out. Our half are my two favorite songs we’ve written, and the Miracle Drug half are my two favorite Miracle Drug songs. Couldn’t ask for any better. 

Speaking of touring, you guys seem to have been hitting it hard since day one. Do you book all your own tours or do you have somebody you're working with in terms of putting stuff together?

We will occasionally work with someone to help fill dates, but we generally book our tours ourselves unless another band is taking care of it.

We try to be on the road as much as we can, but with full-time careers at home it can be difficult sometimes. Every now and then we have to use a fill-in, but of course we would rather have the five of us there. 

What are some of your favorite tour/show memories with Piece of Mind either in terms of actual shows or just pranks/general tomfoolery?

Oh man, there’s so much dicking around that is burned in my brain from touring...we play the odds quite a bit in the van, and Skyler usually gets the raw end of the deal. Once, he had to call a “proof god is real” hotline from a billboard in Ohio and tell the operator that he had a man piss on him in “a state of sober experimentation”. Poor operator probably still talks about it to his friends. 

Probably my favorite show moment was in Oxnard, CA in 2018. There was some guy who was absolutely shit-housed who kept “moshing” and spilling beer everywhere. In between songs he would go sit a beer for Drew next to the kick drum. At one point, he starts trying to tackle Drew and the next thing you see is Drew dropkicking this guy in the chest. Pretty sure there’s a photo of that somewhere. The look of joy on my face is priceless. Some folks throw him out, and he throws a bottle at a car next to our van. A gun gets pulled, drunk guy tries to hide in a taco truck in the parking lot...we high tail it out before the cops show up. Easily my favorite show ever. 

You guys recently announced you've joined the crew at Safe Inside Records. How did you hook up with Burt and when will we hear new stuff?

Burt first hit us up in late 2017 about doing something together. At the time he hadn’t done much outside the Despair re-releases, but that was enough for us. Since then he’s been grinding super hard and picking up a lot of cool bands that grind just as hard as he does. Safe Inside are a smaller label for sure, but I can’t see it being that way for very long. Burt does a lot for his bands and I think it shows. 

We’re just putting the finishing touches on a 7” right now and the art and layout are being put together. Hopefully we’ll have some new music out in the next month or so. 

What sort of new influences (if any) have you guys tried to bring to the table for this new material? Is it self-recorded again or did you decide to go elsewhere this time around?

When we started writing this record a year and a half ago, it was intended to be 2 songs for a split. The split fell apart, so we decided to put those toward an LP. After writing an LP, we realized we had padded it with songs we didn’t feel were strong enough, so we cut it down to an EP. To fit onto a 7” however, we still had to trim a couple songs. The weirder ones got cut, and we left nothing but bangers. 

The weirder stuff that we had written was influenced by everything from Catherine Wheel and Alice In Chains to Refused and early Converge. I had been listening to Kickback’s “Forever War” a lot at the time, and I think that sort of dark and heavy stuff definitely found a place in these songs. Of course, we’re still drawing from Buried Alive, Turmoil, Integrity and One King Down for a lot of stuff.

We recorded this ourselves again, just to help with the budget. We have two engineers in the band, myself and Luis, so doing things ourselves has never been a problem. We would like to go to outside the band for our next record, but having two picky engineers in the band keeps that list short and expensive, so we’ll see when the time comes. 

Assuming the record hits late Summer/early Fall, what kind of touring plans do you guys have once it's out? 

Right now the plan is to do the East Coast with Stepping Stone and No Option in the fall. We would love to get back out to the west coast at some point this year as well, just have to pull some strings to see what we can work out. 

Hit the people with 3 underrated bands they should be listening to at the moment. 

You should definitely be listening to Absence of Mine, Maniac and Prowl. 

Absence of Mine are from Southern California and have a new record coming out soon. Insane band. 

Maniac are from Western Massachusetts and just signed to New Age Records. “War and Insanity” was the best record of 2018.

Prowl are from Montreal. They have a record coming out this summer. If you like crossover thrash and No Warning, you will love this band. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Interview with Jaaron Sanford (Enemy of Creation, Blood In/Blood Out, etc.)

Though he’s been around basically forever, I first met Jaaron Sanford 5 or 6 years ago when Great Rev got to play with his band All These Years and Nothing a couple times. I was immediately struck by the fact that though he is a big, scary ass looking dude, he is simultaneously one of the nicest, most down to Earth people I had ever met. Not only that, but he truly loves and cares about hardcore, and has a similar philosophy/outlook as me; that while the music can and should be as aggressive as possible, we should be welcoming to each other and that there’s no place for the violent posturing that is all too common.

Jaaron’s current project is called Enemy of Creation, a metallic hardcore powerhouse who dropped an incredible 6 song demo last year. Borrowing heavily from bands like All Out War, early Walls of Jericho, etc., they are truly a force to be reckoned with. Great Rev had to play after them a few months ago, and we definitely should have played before them, haha.   

Anyway, I was super stoked when Jaaron agreed to chat about his life spent in the hardcore scene, and even more stoked as we got into things; as you’ll read, he is a person who is incredibly honest about the path he’s travelled, both the parts he is proud of, and the parts he is not so proud of.

I always like to start off by learning about a person's background, so talk a little bit about your family, your childhood, major events that may have impacted you as a kid.

Well, I was born in New Jersey - but moved to New York when I was 4 - about 60 miles north of the city. My father was a bouncer at concerts when I was a kid - at the Capitol Theater in New Jersey. He also did shows at Giant’s Stadium and shit like that. He was a huge Dead Head and that’s how he met my mom; bouncing a Dead show. So music has been a huge part of me my entire life.

Well my mother died when I was in 8th grade and I immediately started doing drugs and drinking and hanging with a rough crowd…got involved with stealing from cars and shit like that. When I turned 16, my dad moved me to Indiana - where my mom’s sister offered to help my dad care for me and my younger brother, give my dad the support he needed to raise a family on his own.

So now I’m a New Yorker turned Hoosier. I’ve actually lived here longer now than I lived I guess I’m a full-on Hoosier. I was always into doing bands. In 4th grade I started my first band, I was into metal big-time. Eventually that kind of faded into punk rock and then hardcore.

It wasn’t until I went back and visited my friends from NY when I was 18 - and saw their awesome and amazing hardcore bands and hardcore scene - that I started really getting into hardcore music; like the history and ideology and listening to it as an art form and lifestyle rather than just heavy music. I came home from that trip on a Greyhound bus and wrote pages and pages of lyrics and also jotted down anyone I knew who played an instrument - because I wanted what they had. I wanted to sing in a hardcore band. It’s odd to say it - but that trip was a life-changing experience. I got off the bus and started calling everyone and piecing together a band.

Holy shit I am so sorry to hear about your mom.

So how did you deal with not only that loss, but moving to a totally new environment?

It was rough. I kind of flew off the deep end and I did a bunch of stuff that wasn’t a good representation of who I was. Like I said above I got into drugs, also got into stealing from cars. I was acting out pretty bad. Then moving to an entire different section of the country - that was about as different as it can get, and simultaneously trying to become a better version of what I became before I moved - while also trying to make new friends and fit in. It proved very difficult, but I made it work and I lived and stayed out of trouble. The plus side was that I was 45 minutes from Chicago, so that was the light at the end of the tunnel to me. Miraculously I found some dudes that were also into hardcore and we started hanging and going to shows in Chicago.

What bands/venues did you experience at age 18 that made such a huge impact on you?

Some of the bands from back home in NY that were huge to me were Inner Dam, All Out War, Beneath The Remains, Drowning Room, Section 8, One King Down, Eye 2 Eye, Divided by Hate, Groundzero. Those were the bands that set me in the right direction getting me into hardcore. I remember having All Out Wars Demo tape when I was young in 93’ living back in NY - it was just a metal band to me, as I didn’t know what hardcore really was then. Very influential to me musically.

Venues that I got to see hardcore shows at back in NY that impacted me were The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY and The Avalon in Newburgh. My buddy played drums in Inner Dam and also for a short period of time played in Shai Hulud as well. I would travel back to New York for shows on the regular.

Then the venues in Indiana/Chicago area that impacted me upon arrival to the area and the hardcore scene here were, first and foremost - The Fireside Bowl: hands down the best shows of my life were watched there. Also the Arlington Heights Knights of Columbus, The Metro and finally The Westport Community Center in Burns Harbor, Indiana. Those 4 places represent the start of my life in the hardcore scene here in the Midwest. Every great show and person I met in the scene was at one of them four places. The first show I ever played in Chicago was at the Fireside Bowl.

I feel lucky to have been involved in the scene I was involved in at the time I was in it. I’m also very grateful my NY friends gave me the knowledge and desire to seek out the same thing they had, but here in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. It helped me dive deep into the genre and help create a scene here in LaPorte.

Oh man, when I was in school in Grand Rapids we would go to Chicago as often as coming back home to Detroit, so I'm sure we were in the same room a lot as we frequented a lot of the Fireside and Arlington Heights shows.

So talk a little bit about building that scene in NW Indiana. What bands (if any) were around/started up at that time? As far as your music, I know did Blood In/Blood Out....were there any bands before that for you or nah?

I’m sure we def were man...2 great spots in a great era.

The first hardcore band I stumbled onto here in Northwest Indiana was - Love You Face Down (or LYFD). It was my bass player from Blood In/Blood Out’s band before I met him. There was this huge Korn/Limp Bizkit influenced music scene was awful. I went to a “party” that was also a show and saw Dave’s band. They were awesome. Huge influence by Downset. Come to find out they did a Quicksand cover and an Inside Out cover, so I knew then that they weren’t part of this horrible “rap rock” trend happening here.

Meanwhile I had started my first hardcore band at that time, called - Merge - which I sang in. It was actually with Shane from Playing Enemy/Great Falls. It was very “meh” - could’ve been a lot better. We were young in the scene and were still “soul searching”. I eventually switched to drums because we couldn’t find a drummer and changed the sound a little bit and also the band name changed as well. It was now called Haulic. We were still quite “meh” sounding hahaha. We played some shows here and there with Love You Face Down, and became friends with them.

As we got closer as bands - Dave and I realized we lived pretty close to each other so we started hanging out. We got pretty close. At some point, we decided we wanted to do something together, something positive to impact the scene around here, since there was a huge tough-guy jock thing happening here at shows. Dudes were being dicks and bullying kids and shit like that. So we threw together the beginnings of a zine. We just wanted to put something out there in retaliation to these guys. We called the zine “Right Arm Death Threat”. We used a rough drawing of a silhouette of a hardcore singer holding a mic to his mouth.

The name and image was basically saying with the mic comes the power to lead change through dropping knowledge on people. Letting them know it’s not okay to be an asshole and that we are all in this together. A singer in a hardcore band can be a huge positive influence and driving force of a scene. So that’s the story behind the name. We got a PO BOX and everything and began constructing this project.

At the exact same time, we started jamming together with a couple a local brothers that were into metal punk and hardcore. And we were doing the same thing with this band as we were with the zine - we wanted to call out these assholes and promote a positive scene. Strong anti-bullying messages basically. So, as it came time to name this band - the brothers we were jamming with (Joe and Kenny Whicker) suggested we use the name we had come up with for the zine - Right Arm Death Threat - for the band name.

And so began mine and Dave’s first step in our journey together. We went right to work writing songs against this crap and calling people out that were bigger and badder than us every step of the way. We felt invincible because we had a wonderful melting pot of a scene behind us at every show. From metal dudes to hippies to indie rockers to punk rockers. We did this band 1998 until 2002 - when we started Blood In/Blood Out, a band I did until last year - still do it from time to time, just to hang with the guys in the band since we never see each other really.

An example of calling these guys out is - I remember one show where some big hammer skin Nazis showed up and were standing in the back with their arms crossed waiting for trouble and we must’ve been like 19 & 20 years old and not even close to these dudes size and we weren’t tough at all....but one of the kids at the show came and told me they were out there in the back, so we stopped the song and I said something along the lines of “This next song is called ‘Open Your Eyes’ and it’s for these racist motherfuckers in the back - get out of here - you ain’t fucking welcome!” And to my surprise they basically put up their middle fingers and walked out.

Oh man....I definitely feel like I saw Right Arm a time or two back in the day, or at least saw the name around a bit. How much did you guys do in terms of releases, shows and tours?

Right Arm Death Threat - we basically did a few demo tapes to start off with - I believe there were 3, then put them all out as our first CD, same recordings and all. Then we did a split CD with our good friends from Dowagiac, Michigan called Triple F (they’re now called Knee Deep In The Dead though) where we did two originals and a cover of CIV “Trust Slips Through Your Hands” And also a cover of Judas Priest “Breaking the Law”. Then we did a split CD with our friends from Southern Illinois - The Vice Dolls. We did 3 originals and a cover of a Vice Dolls song. Then we released our final CD called “Last Stand” on the day of our final show.

We rushed them - did them all DIY (did everything DIY in that band actually) but seems we put little effort into the packaging and recorded them all on our computer and never checked the sound quality. They were trash. Some people didn’t even have any music on their copy of it. So I’m going to re-release them, with a little bit more TLC - hopefully this year. It deserves a proper release I think.

Show wise we were playing Chicago and Indiana all the time. Literally too much in our hometown - but it was fun as hell. We were booking shows in our hometown for touring bands all the time too. We never toured per say - but we ventured out and about to St. Louis, Louisville, Kansas City, Southern Illinois, Quad Cities, Iowa and Milwaukee. So we got out and about and played some fun shows in some great scenes, met some great people that we are still friends with to this day.

This transitions me in to the next part - we wanted to start playing out more and do more stuff with the band - like the bands that were coming through were doing shows for - but our drummer at the time (whom we love dearly) was having his second and third kids and really couldn’t do much of that. We wanted to tour. So we decided that instead of getting our 4th drummer and teaching the songs all over again, why don’t we just find a new drummer and start from scratch? Write new songs. This way we could also get rid of the band name that we all hated - Right Arm Death Threat - and get something we liked a little more. So off we went. Joe and Dave (guitarist and bassist) started trying out drummers in 2002 when I was off on tour playing guitar for The Vice Dolls. I came back and we tried some more out. We eventually got the right drummer and went to work.

Talk about the transition from Right Arm to BIBO. What were you looking to continue going from one project to the next, and what did you want to do differently?

Ultimately, the goal was to start a band that could do more...and that’s what we did. But the next thing was that we were tinkering with getting a second guitar player and maybe playing a little heavier then what we had previously. Maybe mixing in a little more metal influenced hardcore. Where bands like Ensign, Sick Of It All, Strike Anywhere and even Stretch Armstrong were big influences on RADT...bands like XdiscipleX A.D., Irate, Buried Alive, And All Out War were more what we had envisioned moving forward I think.

We did all the stuff we wanted. What we also got was to be around some people that might have swayed us (mostly myself) into directions that were not necessarily who we were really. Like for instance I can remember a show we were playing where a band we were friends with, who was playing before us.... I remember them saying “Blood In/ Blood Out’s next and you guys better fuck shit up for them or they’ll beat your fucking asses” and we would look at each other and shrug our shoulders and were like “Ok? Where is that shit coming from?”
Well eventually, we started acting like the idiots we were being portrayed as. We were easily influenced into being pieces of shit I suppose…getting into fights and egging on fights that broke out while we were playing - rather than stop playing and try breaking that shit up like we used to. It was becoming clearer and clearer that I was becoming/had become the person I hated when I started off on my journey through hardcore - those douche bag jock tough guys. I was acting like them.

Eventually shows were spent with us drinking and driving - getting drunk on the way to the show or getting drunk in the van during the show, rather than listening to any other bands. It was sucky and we were soulless. We eventually just called it a day on the band and started moving on musically in our own separate ways - but we still got asked to play shows. So we would get together and do one or two shows a year. This would always turn out to be a wonderful experience - as now we were getting together and enjoying each other’s company, having fun again in the band, watching other bands again, not getting stupid over-the-top wasted and getting into trouble at every show - we were older and outgrew that little kid bullshit we were involved in for the most part. So now when we play- it’s literally to have fun again.

Unfortunately, the band name carries some serious negative connotation because of how we acted 15 years ago. We lost some good friends along the way because of dumb shit we did - which I don’t blame people at all for cutting ties with us. But today when we do that it’s for the right reasons again.

So it sounds like you guys really grew up a lot during the Blood In/Blood Out period. Were there any particular moments/incidents where you stepped back and realized "Damn, this is not who I am" or was it more of a gradual thing?

To answer the first part of that, I’d have to say the “a-ha moment” was actually when we stopped doing the band the first time. I personally had a chance to collect my thoughts and reflect a bit at the entire band’s existence - at all the shit we had did in the past - good and bad. My mind was definitely clearer at that time and I could see the entire path of devastation (for a lack of a better word) for what it was. It’s very hard to see things clearly when you’re in the middle of it, in any situation in life really. So once you remove yourself from any situation - the clouds part and the sun comes out, so to speak.

Just yesterday, a friend posted about a similar issue where today because of the internet people don't really have an opportunity to make mistakes and grow....if you fuck up, you get called out and your band gets "cancelled" or whatever. 

While I guess I personally lean towards the side of "Maybe just don't be an idiot in the first place, you should know better", I also realize that in a lot of cases we are talking about young kids whose band might be getting exposure for the first time and they didn't know how to deal with some of that limelight, however small it may be. As somebody who has been on both sides of that coin, how do you view this issue/how would you advise young kids coming up?

Yeah I’d have to say your buddy is right. Today it’s virtually impossible to fuck up, and grow from it -that old school “live and learn from our mistakes” mentality. Everything we do is under constant scrutiny for sure, with the social media thing so much part of our everyday lives these days. I also agree with you - don’t do dumb shit in the first place.

But as young kids in hardcore scene, a lot of us get so wrapped up in image, and trying to “prove ourselves”. It sucks; we do it without even knowing it sometimes. It’s like all the crap we hated about school and the social norm growing up....and then our escape from that - the hardcore scene - turns out to foster the exact same practices we tried to get away from. We want to be “ourselves” so bad and have our own identity - but we still copy what’s around us to “fit in” the scene where we are all supposed to just “fit in” without trying. It’s supposed to be the scene that welcomes us outcasts of society with open arms without us fitting in to a certain mold.

I don’t know, I feel that we will constantly have stupid issues in hardcore - like gangs in hardcore and then the bands that are friends with the gangs that try too hard to be like them and act like them to impress them. But such is life. I would say, just stand your ground on your beliefs no matter how unpopular it is at the time - you will have a rocky path sometimes but you eventually find your way to the people who are like minded. Because there definitely are more good, positive-minded people in hardcore and life than negative. It’s so easy to follow the crowd. It really is. Just don’t get wrapped up in taking that easy way when you know it’s questionable to your core beliefs.

So the sonic territory of your bands has definitely ebbed and flowed over the years from the melodic to the heavy and back again. After BIBO your main band for a little bit was All These Years and Nothing. How much of starting that band had to do with a desire to go back to that sound, versus wanting to turn away from the tough guy stuff you fell prey to during your time with BIBO?

It was a combination of the two actually. It was literally formed as a direct retaliation against that tough guy sound/scene. The lyrics were intentionally against that scene and that mentality, in a very blunt way. And then secondary, it definitely was a means to get back to playing the melodic hardcore punk style we loved and grew up on.

To be honest, we still would be doing that band if it wasn’t for some stupid shit between my drummer and guitarist. That band was so cathartic. It took me full circle to where I was calling out stupid tough guy bullshit again like I was when I was younger.
Wow, glad you brought that band up - it usually floats under everyone’s radar - when I feel it easily was the most relevant band I’ve done since 2002 - as far as when it comes to the message it was putting out there.

Alright so with Enemy of Creation the pendulum has definitely swung back to the heavy....what was the impetus to start this new project?

Well, my best friend and bass player of 20 years, Dave, was moving away to Arkansas. I knew that my time being in a band with him was over after this move happens....and we have been in almost all the same projects together since we met in ‘97. So it was rough to move on from him mentally. But I knew I wanted to play music still obviously, so it was time to find new band members.

Starting out all I knew is I wanted to play guitar again and write music more in line with what I grew up writing - whether that was doing a more basic death metal band like Obituary style.....or doing a thrashier metal band like Slayer/Sepultura....or doing a punk band like Off!/Dillinger Four....or doing an old metallic hardcore band like Harvest/Bloodlet.

I knew those were my “bread and butter” styles that I could write in and play well on guitar. So I eventually narrowed it down to metallic hardcore style because it seemed those riffs were coming most natural to me. I then called my buddy Scott that I’ve known since I was in 11th grade. We played together in my first ever Indiana band - THC. It was a thrash band like DRI style. None of us smoked weed and it was a dumb name....but we were in high school so what can you expect?

Later, in 2000, Scott and myself formed a metallic hardcore band with my friend Parker on vocals (he would later play guitar in Wings of Scarlet and Undying) - we were called Burning Season. We put out a 5-song demo, played about five shows, and stopped for the day due to our distance apart from each other, but I knew Scott wanted to jam again, He was always kind of on the sidelines waiting to jam again, and I knew he had time to dedicate - so I contacted him and saw if he was interested in doing a band that was kind of a throwback in a sense to the shit we started in 2000 with Burning Season.

He was immediately 100% down. I knew it would be fun to head down that path again, of metallic hardcore. But as we started piecing the band together with other dudes, we started getting everyone else’s input on band direction and the band kind of made its own direction. We all like punk, metal and hardcore - but the metal side took us over basically. I mean we still have hardcore songs, but a metal version of it, I’d say.

How do you feel EOC is similar and different from your past work?

I feel it’s similar only in it’s a heavy hardcore band. I’ve been there and done this style of band before. It’s nothing new musically. It’s different in my involvement with riff writing and how we piece together songs. I was probably just a small percentage in helping with riff writing in Blood In/Blood Out and All These Years and Nothing, since I was the singer in those bands. Whereas now I am more like 95% of the main riff writer. Towards the end of Blood In/Blood Out we were just showing up to band practice with our own songs fully written - showing the other dudes how to play them, it was kind of boring.

In this band I’ll just bring a riff or two that I like and we all form the song together, just from that little bit. It’s also different in the mentality. Like these days, I’d much rather play to a room of metal head kids head banging and shoulder moshing than hardcore kids dancing, and I feel this is the perfect band for that segway to happen.

What lessons from your previous bands do you feel like you are trying to keep in mind with this venture, be they in terms of actual song-writing, how the band carries itself, etc.?

Songwriting I usually get wrapped up in the formula of riff a, riff b, riff c, riff d, end of song. I didn’t like repeating riffs. I hated that intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown format, forever. In this band, I’m trying to be more open to do whatever feels right and not be close-minded to dumb shit like that. At practice we basically let the song take us wherever we feel it’s taking us. Whether it’s a more basic song format or it be never repeating a single riff.

As far as the way the band carries itself - image isn’t shit. Image is important to kids trying to “make a name for themselves” and trying to “prove themselves”. Image may sell - but no one in this band is trying to sell anything. We basically give all our merch away for cost. We can easily just play one show a month, and that show can be in front of 15 people and we can never make a dime, and we would be happy with what we are doing.

We are just approaching this band as - we want to make music we enjoy... and honestly it’s also about meeting nice new people and developing friendships. I’ve been really into bands before in the past, and then I’ve met said bands when we played with them, and found out they were total arrogant self-important douche bags. I just can’t listen to them ever again after that. Seeing this has helped me keep myself in line with what’s important - being a nice person and forming meaningful relationships. I’d much rather play a few shows, get to know good people and get into the bands that are filled with good people and support them. That’s just the point I’m at in my life. I don’t have time to waste on shitty people in the scene anymore. And we in the band, all feel the same way...just wanna jam with some good people, develop some decent new friendships and write some good fun music.

As I eluded to before - playing shows in the metal scene is something new for us. Where we are more used to playing hardcore shows - it was odd at first to NOT see people “killing” each other... but I feel we all believe it’s an exciting kind of odd feeling. It’s an exciting change to the norm. I think it’s the natural progression we all are in need of. Makes me smile to see some young metal head kids getting into the band the way they do. It’s fun and exciting all over again. We still play hardcore shows and people still get down and dance, but more and more metal kids have been popping up at our shows - and it’s great.

In the interview you did with Old Skull Zine you mentioned that more than recording or playing out, its the writing process that you enjoy the most these days. What would you say inspires you the most to pick up your instrument and create?

I’d say it changes from time to time. Some days I wanna pick up my guitar and write solos and shit because I saw my friends’ band, Penitentiary, shredding at the last show we played together. And I can’t shred at all - so it’ll get me looking up YouTube videos on soloing which I’ll pick the easiest one and steal it once in a while. But overall, my solos are just a melodic rhythm over the riff.

But a lot of the time, it’s hearing my friends bands totally kill it live that inspires me the most. Also the CD’s I have playing in my car daily. They really get my juices pumping and wanting to write. There were even some riffs I have that were totally ripped/influenced by listening to Great Reversals “Mere Mortals” for a month straight, hahahaha. Haven’t put em’ into a song yet, but they are in existence... recorded on my phone in my riff folder...waiting.
Sometimes when I feel my riffs are coming painfully to close to the bands I’m listening to - I’ll throw on a Built to Spill CD, Superchunk CD or Hot Water Music CD to distract my mind and reset a bit. I love those three bands but I’m not gonna use the inspiration I get from those bands, to help write riffs in this band. So it’s a good mental cleansing mechanism for me.

Those or more recently NPR is a go to, to get my mind off a certain band or style. A lot of the time I like the riffs that I write on the spot at band practice better then the shit I sit and ponder on. Granted, those riffs, I’ll take home and clean them up over the week and bring them back next week a little more polished. But overall, just friends bands and my daily listening. Probably similar to most people’s influence and inspiration methods.

Alright so what's next for you guys in terms of recording, releases, or upcoming shows you're stoked about?

We currently have 3 fully written songs ready to record. We are hoping to complete two more and record a new EP by June. We are going to release it on cd, cassette tape and digital this time. It’ll be on a newer Scottish death metal label called Camo Pants Records. I’d love to do something vinyl down the road a bit...maybe a split makes sense for that one. The new EP will be called “Victims of the Cross” with the majority of Steve’s lyrics focusing on religious topics.

Shows - we have a couple coming up, March 22 in Kalamazoo with our friends in Andor - looking forward to that one. March 23 in Michigan City (local show with all our friends’ bands) - local shows are always a blast.

Probably gonna use the rest of the time we have between now and June to finish writing the EP and get it tight. But we are definitely stoked to finally get a recording with our new singer Steve on it. I know he is excited to record too. It’ll just be nice to have something recorded that represents the current lineup.

To close this thing out, since he's the bridge between us....most embarrassing Chris Zibutis story.

Chris Zibutis - can’t think of anything too embarrassing. Well, I know he came out on a West Coast tour as our merch guy for a Blood in/Blood Out, The Killer and Bloody Sunday tour...and in Corona, California - The Killer declared that it was “Free For All - Fuck Around Friday” and told Chris he was the target.

They were gonna punch him in the dick. So he basically abandoned all merch duties to assure he was protecting his “baby maker”. And I think I remember something getting stolen from our table that particular night. I also remember him getting out of it unscathed that night - and showing up to a show in Chicago months and months later - to which he was told by The Killer that “he didn’t escape ‘fuck around Friday’ and he is still gonna get it” hahahaha so there was that.

But honestly, his biggest embarrassment is him being a Green Bay Packers fan, hahahahaha.