I forgot I had even interviewed Vic Bondi (vocalist from Articles Of Faith and staple of the Midwestern hardcore scene), until I stumbled across this in old email inbox. AoF are one of all time favourites. I just wish I had asked some better questions. Thanks to Vic for taking the time to answer them.
Q. Tell us about the Midwestern hardcore punk scene of the 80's...
Vic: It was small, and very tight. It was not acclaimed the way the East Coast or West Coast scene was. The “eastern wing” was dominated by Touch and Go and Ohio/Michigan bands like Necros, Toxic Reasons and Negative Approach. The “western wing” was dominated by Minneapolis bands, especially Husker Du. The Huskers, Toxic Reasons, AoF and the Zero Boys were probably the most important bands in creating a scene. We helped the other bands out with bookings, tours and recordings. There were no computers or cell phones, so it involved a lot of telephone calls and mails. It was a slow and expensive process putting a scene together. But fun.
Q. How did you get into hardcore in the first place? What was the first band you ever saw live?
Vic: I was born too late to participate in all the action of the 1960s. But when I was growing up, there was a lot of ‘60s hangover—mostly the sense of being part of a scene, and being in a movement of historical significance. I wanted that—so did a lot of other people in the early hardcore days. That’s part of the unwritten history of hardcore. Even though it was ostensibly anti-hippie, a lot of hippies and hippy culture pervaded the early scene, especially from some of the political activists like Tim Yohannon, who wanted to see the leftist politics of the 1960s revive. They weren’t hippies, exactly (most of them did not use drugs), but they helped create a scene and set up shows and mentor us. They understood, as I did, that punk and hardcore was new and different, and something special for people my age (about 10 years younger than the hippies). But they saw that it had that sense of inclusion and movement. It organized itself around music, as had the scene in the 1960s. It was just much more aggressive music. I’m not sure who the first hardcore band I saw was, but I saw the Bad Brains in DC in 1981, and that show influenced me profoundly. I went back to Chicago and told the band we had to play fast. It made us find our own style.
Q. What bands influenced Articles Of Faith, musically and personally, and what were your favorite contemporary hardcore bands?
Vic: AoF had a lot of very diverse influences—all of us were very different in our music tastes. I learned to play guitar listening to some specific records that have influenced me to this day: Give ‘Em Enough Rope by the Clash, the Ramones Road to Ruin, the Jam This is the Modern World, Easter by Patti Smith, Squeezing out Sparks by Graham Parker and Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen. I probably know every single riff, lead and guitar line on these records—I played them until I knew how to play music. It set my basic musical vocabulary in place. The other guys in AoF liked a lot of other styles of music. Dave, the bass player, liked Heavy Metal and rock bands like AC/DC and Thin Lizzy; Joe, the other guitar player, liked Jazz and experimental music; Bill, the drummer, was an early fan of rap and hip hop—we used to listen to Grandmaster Flash on AoF tours. It was the diversity of our tastes that gave AoF a distinctive sound. We tended to like other hardcore bands that had a diversity of styles in their music, too, such as the Big Boys, the Bad Brains, and, of course, Husker Du. None of us really liked the super-macho hardcore bands like Negative Approach, SoA or SSD. We weren’t up for playing to male-only crowds.
Q. Who is the nicest guy have ever met from being involved in hardcore? Was Ian Mackaye an asshole?
Bob Mould. Ian was definitely an asshole in the old days. But I’ve never met someone who evolved and grew more than him. Beginning with Fugazi, there was an amazing shift in his personality. He’s a terrific person.
Q. Tell us about the hostility between yourselves and the Effigies?
Vic: It had more to do with jealousy than politics. I was a big Effigies fan at the beginning, and to this day think Haunted Town is a great album. When I was first trying to fit into the Chicago scene, I thought they might help me, but it was just the opposite: they had contempt for me, as they did for almost everyone in the scene. They never saw themselves as part of a community, or a movement: they just wanted to be rock stars, and let everyone know it. We wanted to be rock stars, too, but we wanted to change the music industry, and more broadly, the culture of the country. And we not only were supportive of the scene, we actively built it up. Unlike the Effigies, AoF couldn’t get gigs in overage clubs, so we started putting on shows ourselves, and we let just about anyone play shows. By 1983, these shows were huge, and AoF was the hot band in the city. Honestly, we were a better band than they were—live, especially, they couldn’t touch us, and they knew it. That really grated the Effigies, who by that point were on the serious decline. You can hear it in their music: after Haunted Town, almost all their records sound alike, and are not very inventive. AoF, by contrast, kept pushing ourselves. AoF was a lot more musically adventurous. But the Effigies got caught up in commoditizing themselves (so they’d “hit it big”). AoF lived the music we made, and so it was a lot more dynamic.
Q. What do you think about the hardcore bands in the 80's who rejected the "MRR politics" and went out of their way to be controversial and/or right wing?
Vic: The Effigies did it; Tesco did it; Albini did it, although I’ll give Albini credit for keeping the music business at arm’s length, especially after he got famous (he’s still an insufferable shit of a human being). I don’t think too many bands—left or right--had a deep, knowledgeable understanding of politics. Things were much more visceral and reactive. There were bands that were pretty comfortable with the way things were, like the Effigies, and bands that weren’t, like AoF. There were bands that were in it for themselves, and those that tried—as much as egomaniac performers can try—to look outside themselves. I think the way Kedzy and I grew up after our musical heyday tells you more about the difference between our politics and our bands as our records did: Kedzy ended up a prosecutor for the State of Illinois, and I ended up teaching and building educational software. Prosecutors necessarily defend the status quo; teachers necessarily evolve it. So the difference is there, but I’m not sure how extreme it might be: I’d probably look to Kezdy to prosecute a crime if I were a victim of one, and no doubt his kids have used software I designed.
Q. Did you have any particular close relationships with any other Midwestern bands? Was there a sense of closeknit community, in a fairly large region?
Vic: We had very close relationships with several bands: the Huskers, Soul Asylum, Die Kreuzen, Zero Boys and Toxic Reasons, in particular. We also had close relations to some bands outside the Midwest, like the Big Boys from Texas, and Stretch Marks and Personality Crisis from Canada.
Q. Articles Of Faith consistently deviated from the sound of other hardcore bands. What do you think separated you from the rest?
Vic: The diversity of musical styles that each member of AoF had.
Q: How do you feel about the DIY ethic that was to be found in hardcore? Do you still hold onto those values when it comes to music?
Vic: Absolutely. I’ve been a software entrepreneur for the last three years, and still feel strongly about doing it yourself. The latest musical outing I’ve made, Report Suspicious Activity, is again DIY: We paid for everything ourselves, and owe no one.
Q. How do you feel about commercial popular music nowadays? I heard that you wanted to kill Britney Spears...
Vic: I don’t need to kill her. No doubt she will eat herself to death. I don’t listen to commercial music at all. I rely on new music from three sources: the Internet, where I stumble across all sorts of styles, epitomic.com, which streams a lot of music I like, and WMFU here in New York, which plays just about any style of music there is, but for the most part by unknown or single hit bands. Commercial music has always been shit, and for the now part is good only on television commercials, the only place where it crosses my threshold.
Q: What do you think of hardcore nowadays? Is there any current bands you like or respect?
Vic: I don’t listen to much hardcore. Most “hardcore” bands specialize in that “light singer/heavy singer” crap, which I don’t find interesting. But I’m open.
Q. Tell us about about the politics behind Articles of Faith: a thrashing protest band?
Vic: The idea was that we would destroy the conventions of music just as we would destroy the conventions of the State. Unfortunately both proved a lot more resilient than we thought.
Q. Did you ever consider turning into a bad heavy metal band in the mid 80's like many of your contemporaries?...Changing your name to Iron Warriors or something...
Vic: Well, that’s how the music biz incorporated the discontinuity that hardcore represented. We would never have done that—we would (and did) break up first. But no one in the band ever seriously considered it. Too “boy.”
Q. How much have your opinions changed over the years? For example, your views on Anarchy expressed in some early interviews...
Vic: I was never a serious Anarchist. I met serious Anarchists in Europe, and am not sure that American culture can provide for a serious anarchist—our culture is too individualistic for that. I think a lot of young, anti-authoritarian Americans talk about Anarchism, but don’t viscerally understand it the way the more communalist Europeans do. Ask Crass or the Ex about Anarchism. Black Flag or AoF really didn’t understand it, no matter how many times we might have invoked it. Look, I’ve made my accommodations with the way things are. I’m a middle class, middle-aged father trying to do my best to change things in my own small way. I’ve got my issues with the way things are, but recognize how difficult it is to change them. In the past year I did my best: I released the Report Suspicious Activity record, and spent 14 months deploying laptop learning programs in the worst schools in New York City. I know the laptop program touched and changed the lives of some of the students we served. Hopefully the RSA record did, too.
Q. Hardcore punk has become more apolitical over the years. What do you attribute this to, and how do you feel about it?
Vic: I think that the minute you drop politics from punk it becomes heavy metal, and you become mere entertainers. A lot of hardcore bands know this, and don’t care, because they think they are going to make a lot of money. But they won’t. More importantly: twenty years from now, no one is going to be interested in what you done, or who you are.
Q. Do you think that it's "viable" (for want or a better word) for a DIY hardcore punk band to promote Christianity, or religion in general?
Vic: I think it is contrary to everything hardcore is about. I’m not against religion. But keep it to yourself.
Q. How did the hardcore scenes vary, from city to city, in the 80's? Was there any cities you particularly liked to play?
Vic: The big scenes were in LA, SF, Boston and DC. But Philly, Calgary and Toronto were great places for AoF to play.
Q. would you ever consider doing a reunion with Articles Of Faith?
Vic: We did it in ’91. At this point we are probably too old to play that style of music. And there would be no point in playing with anyone else, although we occasionally toy with the idea of RSA playing an AoF song.
Q. What are your views on "straight edge"?
Vic: I was straight edge for about six months. Ian still is. God bless him for that. For everyone else, let’s have a beer.
Q. What do you think about the kind of cult status of certain figures in hardcore, the kind of hero worship perhaps (Rollins, Mackaye)?
Vic: I don’t see anyone actively soliciting hero worship. Henry and Ian have just done the best that they can. They can’t be held responsible if other people project upon them things they can’t sustain.
Q. What is the single worst experience you remember from playing in AOF? Did you ever have problems with violence at shows in Chicago?
Vic: No, not in Chicago. We had a bad run-in with skinheads in Detroit. The worst with AoF was when Dave and I got into a fistfight onstage in Tucson. Thankfully the cops raided the show during the fistfight, and it was cancelled.
Q. Tell us about your time spent teaching at the University of Massachusetts. What do you do to pay the bills now?
Vic: I taught history for eight years, living a pretty threadbare existence. I liked teaching at UM—Boston best, because the students there had a fantastic work ethic and tried hard. My favorite course was probably the Vietnam War class I taught for two years at University of New Hampshire. In 1995, Microsoft offered me a job developing educational software. I took it. In 2003 I left the company for several educational software startups, which have failed, so I am returning to work at MSFT this month.
Q. A common theme in AOF lyrics is War. How do you feel about what happened in Iraq recently? Do you think there is general apathy from people towards it?
Vic: No, I think most people despise the war. But Bushco does not care. My feelings on wars then and now are pretty self-evident in my music. The entire Report Suspicious Activity record is pretty clear about it.
Q. Generic question, what are your three favourite novels?
Vic: I don’t read a lot of fiction—I tend towards nonfiction. I’m currently reading The Power Broker about the New York developer Robert Moses, and just finished two non-fiction books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Earth: An Intimate History. My favorite novels are probably: A. USA by John Dos Passos, B. 1984 by George Orwell, and C. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky.
Q. Did you ever experience any hostility towards you or your band due to your politics?
Vic: Yes, but fuck ‘em.
Here's an Articles Of Faith video of 'Wait'.