Thursday, 5 June 2008

Dan from MAD AT THE WORLD RECORDS interview...

Aswell as interviewing bands, I'm going to start interviewing the people behind some of my favourite record labels, new and old. So, to get us started here is a very recent interview I did via email with Dan from Mad At The World Records, a great modern label. Dan's a really nice guy too, and gave some great answers to my mediocre questions! He also runs a really cool blog here. Anyway, enjoy...

Q. How did you get into hardcore? Can you remember your first record, and the first show you attended?

Dan: It was in the early 90's, and I was pretty young. I lived in Germany at the time and these guys that I hung with at school were Americans whose parents were in the Army. Some of them listened to stuff like the Sex Pistols, Suicidal Tendencies, and Minor Threat. So, the usual suspects, I suppose. I had heard the Pistols before but I remember the first time I actually gave them a serious listen; I remember saying to myself "this sounds like 70's music." I didn't mean it in a derogatory way-- I like a lot of 70's rock. But it sounded like such a throwback compared to what was on the radio then, and really pissed off at that. It left a big enough impression on me that I wanted to find out more about any music that fell under the same category. First record I ever bought would have been Bob Dylan probably. First punk record purchase would have been the Sex Pistol's "Flogging a Dead Horse" comp. The first show I went to was in Germany.... Don't know if you would consider these hardcore shows, but I saw Wool (ex-Scream guys) and Quicksand on their respective tours over there. When I moved back to the United States (New Jersey) in 1993, I actively sought out this music. Even though I lived a stone's throw away from a lot of stuff going on in New Jersey at the time, it was hard to find out about shows and bands right away, especially 'cause I was young and didn't know anybody. But I eventually found some likeminded folks and found out about shows and such. Incidentally, one of the kids in my English class was the younger brother of the bass player in one of the Taste of Fear line-ups Daryl was talking about in a previous interview on your blog. It felt like a looong few months living back in the States before I found other kids into the music, but once I did, it just went from there.

Q. Mad At The World has a solid catalog so far. What record labels from the past are your main inspiration?

Dan: Thanks. The catalog's a bit all over the place in terms of our releases. The first few releases were just small run 7"s either by bands I was friends with or bands I was in. Then we started getting into doing the NYHC reissues and a few current releases by folks I became friends with over the years. Labels I take inspiration from? The most obvious answer would be Dischord or Touch and Go simply because of the quality of their releases. They're pretty much flawless catalogs from top to bottom, and everyone knows it. Although there's some stuff I'm not so entirely keen on, I like how early to mid 80's SST first established a name for themselves through a relentless work ethic and then tried pushing the envelope in terms of what was acceptable within their scene. I like all kinds of music, particularly old post-punk stuff, so Rough Trade and early Subterranean Records are influential. Record labels nowadays are a dime a dozen, so I respect any label that documents particular scene or sound in a manner that gives it a sense of importance.It's a tough call for us because Mad at the World has a lot going on; there are the reissues which we will keep on doing, and there's the current stuff, which we try to keep separate. I sometimes wonder if doing the 2 coextensively doesn't confuse the consistency of the label, but what the hell...

Q. You obviously love YDI (taking the name Mad At The World from a YDI song). Describe what you love about their 7" good is the demo too! Have you caught any of their reunion shows?

Dan: It is actually from the YDi song. Damn, that's a great record. I actually got it as a fluke; I had no idea what it was when I bought it. I was in a record shop in a basement on Carmine Street in the West Village (Subterranean Records, I think it was called. I don't know if it still exists.) and was puzzling myself as to whether this was the band "YDL" I had seen on old CB's flyers play with bands I liked. I checked out the thanks list and it seemed old, they thanked the Iron Cross (who I knew from the Flex Your Head comp), so even though it was $20, which was an awful lot for me to shell out on a record, I thought I'd take the chance on it. When I put the needle to the wax, I was blown away by how intense and over-the-top it was. The drums were played with total abandon, and the guitar playing is ferocious in a savant kind of way. Even the off-kilter tempos on some of the songs just drip with venom. It took me a while to realize what kind of a fateful, lucky mistake I had made. The YDL record would certainly NOT have affected me that much.I didn't actually see any of the reunions; I do remember the first reunion show they played at CB's I was out of town and tried to come back into the city to make it. I missed seeing the band's show, but we had communicated before and met up for a drink and some food after the set on St Mark's Place. Real nice guys, I'd sure like to see them one day.

Q. Is NYHC dead? Who's worth checking out from the area? Do you get depressed thinking about just how good early Madball is compared to their shitty later stuff?

Dan: I moved to Montreal almost 2 years ago, so I couldn't tell you. It seems like there's bands around and that a good amount of people go to the shows, but I really don't know what's going on. I liked what I've heard of the Dustheads and Deathcycle, but I'd be hard pressed to name many current NY hardcore bands. That's not to say there aren't any... Shellshock is a good band, but I don't know if they're active anymore. There's a number of bands playing in New York that I liked 10-12 years ago, but I don't have much interest in seeing them if they're doing the same stuff they've done years ago. NY is a hard place to have a band. Living is expensive, practicing is expensive, and with the price of gas, you're certainly not going to see a bunch of NY hardcore folks be able to afford practicing a bunch and taking the show on the road. I seriously think a lot of those factors are going to be prohibitive for any kind of NYHC scene to flourish anymore. And, Madball.... are you trying to get me beat up? JK; I'm not terribly fond of the newer Madball stuff at all, but Freddy and Hoya and company are going to do their thing and I'm hardly going to be the one to ask them to stop. At least they've got new songs! I'm more depressed about the amount of shitty bands copying later Madball.

Q. Other than running the label, have you played in any bands? Describe what your dream hardcore band would be like with you as the frontman (also, what frontmen would you ideally be a mixture of)?

Dan: I've played in a lot of bands, actually. I played in Ka-boom! who played ABC No Rio a lot in the mid to late 90's. We were supposed to release a split LP with NJ band Fan Shen as the first Deadalive/ Manic Ride Records release, but we wound up breaking up before it happened. I played in Panopticon who have a 7" on MATW. It was more of an experiment to see if we could fuck with the non-hardcore music we were listening to at the time and still be a hardcore band-- without coming off sounding like a lot of the "post-hardcore" stuff which we were not fond of. I don't know if we succeeded, but the handful of shows we played (mostly at parties) were pretty crazy, and I liked the music. We tried to make a small pressing of the most hideously packaged record imaginable so that no one would ever buy it based on its packaging alone. We succeeded at that. The motivation was that if someone bought that first record, we would know it was because they saw the band and liked us. However, if you stop playing shows and never do another record, that plan will obviously backfire. I played in the Bad Form, who had two 7"s out and played a bunch of shows. I played in Trenchcoat Army from New York with Wendy and Don of Guillotine fanzine and a revolving cast of characters. We released a 7" that none of us were terribly fond of in the end, and then a full LP that is actually pretty awesome, but was never released. I filled in for the Nihilistics, which turned into a 3+ year gig. I now play in Omegas from Montreal and am starting something else up with some friends. Omegas have a 7" coming out soon-- most probably on Parts Unknown, which we're excited about. I don't have a dream hardcore band in terms of the sound of a band I'd like to play in. I just need a couple of wackos who are good enough musicians to keep a steady beat, and get along well enough to go on long drives together and play some raw music. A dream hardcore band I'd like to see? Clearly that band would have Lemmy on bass, Pig Champion on guitar (second guitar by Pat Smear), a young Stevie Wonder on drums (fuck yes!), and Raybeez on vocals. What frontman of the past would I like to be like? Someone with some brain cells left!

Q. What's your favourite hardcore 7" cover-art? LP? Which bands do you think had the best aesthetics?

Dan: It can go either way-- real simple and iconic like the Urban Waste 7" or real meticulous and detailed like the Rudimentary Peni records. I like stuff where the whole record has certain forcefulness and consistency, and doesn't particularly look like a pastiche of sources. Certain bands like the Abused or Septic Death did a really good job of representing their band in their record covers and flyers, but having an artist in the band helps. While not my favorites musically you can't deny that the Revelation Records releases had this kind of consistency. Black Flag covers are awesome, but that's obvious. I like the look of monochromatic, hand-drawn artwork, and in certain circumstances I like the real agit-prop look of a lot of early hardcore records. But when those styles becomes an imperative in laying out a record, I think it defeats the purpose. I think the Bauhaus records have a great aesthetic, but not hardcore obviously. As a general rule, I like more minimal layouts that achieve a lot with a small amount of compositional elements.

Q. You've put out a few Battletorn records, describe what's so great about them (my band played with them on their UK tour a few years back)

Dan: Well, this to me sums up what is great about Battletorn: When I first saw Battletorn, it was one of their earliest shows at a rock show in New York. I didn't go to many hardcore shows in that time and wasn't paying much attention to what was going on in the hardcore scene. I'll always like and listen to my hardcore records, but I also like plenty of types of music, so as long as there's music going on, I'm not going to particularly miss it. Plus, I'd rather see NO hardcore than shitty hardcore. Anyway, the show was the Witnesses and Bad Wizard, who are both great live bands. But in between these bands, these 3 folks get on stage and proceed to lay waste to the crowd over the course of 4 minutes. My jaw hit the floor-- they sounded like Nausea playing Victim in Pain, and to a totally unexpecting audience who had no idea what was going on. I knew I had to do something with these folks, and was excited when it happened. When they slimmed down to a 2 piece, I was curious how they would handle the transition, but it just streamlined things even more. Glad you got to play with them!

Q. Antidote 7" vs the Urban Waste 7"? (I think I know what you'll go with). Explain why...

Dan: I'd have to go with Urban Waste. The Antidote 7" is great, but Urban Waste is just so over the top. And knowing those guys, too, just reinforces how great this record is. They captured the sound of a bunch of crazy kids in early 80's NY perfectly. It's a shame there's not more recorded material. I heard rumors there was, but we haven't been able to track anything down over a number of years (2 demo tracks, but really shitty recordings... nothing more than that).

Q. The Abused 7" vs the Cause For Alarm 7"? GO!

Dan: That's a really tough one. To me both of these bands released top notch NYHC 7"s. I'll be taking the easy way out and say "depending on my mood". Last month I might have said the Abused, but I just rocked the CFA 7" the other day and it's great. So, I can't decide!

Q. What's the most fucked up thing you've ever seen happen at a hardcore show?

Dan: That depends; there's always been a good amount of shit going on at shows. The typical answer would be some crazy fights or violence, which I can't say that I'm particularly fond of. I wouldn't say I'm categorically against it, but I don't have much patience for it in the vast majority of cases. I do remember one thing, which couldn't really be properly labeled a fight, but is amusing nonetheless. It was at CBGB's in the later 90's. Breakdown played and Richie Krakdown (if memory serves) came out of the woodwork for the show. He must have got real high before going in the pit; he was having a good old-time, but was not exactly the most graceful, if you know what I mean. He must have bumped into some people the wrong way (one of whom was Jimmy Dijan) and took a sucker punch or two. Big Charlie Henkins was still alive at the time and took care of his friend Richie, which included getting into some scuffles on his behalf. On his way out the door, some smaller kid got in his face about some nonsense. Charlie picked him up by the face and threw him down the bar. That was kind pretty comical as it was so effortless. Who knows why that guy thought it was a good idea to get in Big Charlie's face; I certainly wouldn't have.

Q. How did you end up putting out reissues of classic NY records by bands like Urban waste, Major Conflict, Misguided and Nihilistics? Did you meet up with the members of each band? Nice guys?

Dan: Well, being friends with Wendy from Guillotine got me friends with a number of those people. The Nihilistics I met through her and became friends with them, which is how I wound up playing with them. Same with Johnny and John Dancy of Urban Waste. Also Johnny Stiff was always good at tracking people down and hooked us up with the Major Conflict and Misguided folks. Sure, they're all nice guys. Some are easier to deal with than others, but like and respect all of 'em. All older NY folks have a screw loose in one way or another, though!

Q. You put out the Out Cold LP 'Goodbye Cruel World' (which will no doubt be considered a classic in years to come, but fuck, all of their records will be) did that come about? How GOOD is that band?

Dan: I've been friends with those guys for a while and we had talked about doing releases before. I've been hooked since I mailordered their Permanent Twilight World LP. It was one of those records that you checked out on a hunch that it was going to be good and it delivered to a much higher degree than expected. It used to be cool to be able to pick stuff up without having heard a note off of it and concentrating intently on the first listen to find out whether it was a worthwhile purchase. People's buying habits have changed to where people often already have the songs of the records they buy. I suppose it's a responsible move on the consumer's part, but it diminishes some of the importance of that first time the needle hits the vinyl and finding out a record that you just dropped some cash on is a definite keeper. Anyway, since then, I picked up all their records and championed them in any way I could. I must have interviewed those guys a handful of times for a number of different zines, and booked them to play in New Jersey a few times. The last time was at my house in New Brunswick with 9 Shocks Terror, and some months later we decided to do a split LP with them and 9 Shocks Terror. Out Cold took a while to finish off their tracks. However, in the interim 9 Shocks needed a release to go on tour with in Europe, so we used those songs as an EP and the tracks from the Out Cold side were then put towards that album. The cool thing about Out Cold is that they have a clear idea of what they want to do with that band, and they are totally indifferent to contingencies of the current hardcore scene. If hardcore ceased to exist tomorrow, it wouldn't affect Out Cold's output.

Q. What else do you do to pay the rent?

Dan: You mean you didn't think Out Cold records paid the rent??? Moving to Canada was strenuous since I didn't come here with a permanent resident visa, so working was tough, and I lived on a shoestring budget for a while. I work in a call center; I used to be a relay operator (for deaf people) and now I am working doing customer service for a cell phone company. It pays the bills. In NY I was a special ed teacher, and that's what I'm most qualified to do professionally. I have some visa limitations here where I can't work in a school or on a farm, so obviously that limits my possibilities. I'm looking to get that sorted out soon because I'd like to teach again in the fall.

Q. What are the future plans for Mad At The World? I see you're putting out the Cheap Tragedies LP...More NYHC reissues too?

Dan: First of all a new website, which I'm hoping will be live soon. I was always a little bit disappointed that our site couldn't function as more of a resource for information on the bands we've put out, because I think people would especially be interested in some more information about the old NYHC bands. It used to be so hard to find any information on them. There are a number of internet resources now alleviating this a little bit, but I'd still like to be able to provide some sort of archive of the bands we work with. That will keep me busy for a while.We are doing the Cheap Tragedies LP, which will be incredible. It's been recorded and they're working on layout and artwork now. This should be out sometime this summer depending on when I get everything from those guys, but they'll have some killer 7"s come out on Livewire Records and High Anxiety 416 in the meantime as well. It fell into my lap in a sense; Erba sent me a link to Cheap Tragedies' myspace page when the tracks from the demo were posted. It took me a while to listen because I always have problems loading those myspace players. When I didn't respond right away, Erba sent me a nasty email sarcastically thanking me for listening to his new band! It impressed upon me that he's really got some fire under his ass about that band, and aside from that, I'd be hard pressed to cite a band the guy was in that wasn't quality. (Obviously we smoothed things over rather quickly.) I was able to download the tracks and the demo was good, but more than anything the songs were interesting and showed some real promise. The output since then has been stellar, and I got to see those guys live recently which reaffirmed my enthusiasm for the band. The album is a rager from start to finish, and I'm very proud to be able to put it out on MATW. I'll stop gushing about it now, in case those guys read this. They know how much I like it, but I want to still be able to bust their balls about stuff, so I can go off like a total fanboy.

Q. What's your favourite hardcore compilation of all time, and explain why...

Dan: Compilations are tough. I'll have to go with the old standbys: Flex Your Head, Yes LA, Where the Wild Things Are, The Way it Is, etc. They just capture a very timely sound and spirit that still managers to capture people's attention. I don't know if I'll ever do a compilation myself; too much hassle organizing them! I can definitely appreciate them when they're done well though! I have to voice my appreciation for that compilation From the Ground Up that had some of my NY favorites on the time on it (Awkward Thought, the Down Low, the Truents, etc). I don't know how appreciated it is nowadays, but I thought that pulled off the compilation concept quite well as it documented what was going on in NY at the time.

Q. Does it annoy you that there is growing number of kids who prefer Alpha Omega to Age Of Quarrel? (and if it doesn' probably should..)

Dan: I don't listen to Alpha Omega much myself. Age of Quarrel is a canonical rock record. It's one of the records that proves that hardcore can be done properly on a full length, and manage to be a crushing hardcore album while respecting the album format. It's kind of cool that people look to Alpha Omega as an example of growth and possibility and appreciate the sounds they were toying with. But come on! Age of Quarrel's already got everything AO brings to the table, and better!I'm just not into metal that much-- I like metal just fine, but I don't like the way it is incorporated into hardcore. I like a solid backbeat to my rock music, and it seems like with few notable exceptions (which can run from Absolution to Amebix), hardcore just takes the most insipid elements from metal. This is particularly true of the "mosh" variety. The Cro-Mags is an example of a band that got it right from the get-go, but I can't say I listen to a lot of bands that take obvious cues from the Cro-Mags. My point about this is that I don't see them getting into any next-level shit with AO, when they clearly could have. With John and Harley in the band, that could have been the Raw Power to their Funhouse, but....

Q. The F.U.'s - My America ... a near perfect hardcore record or what?

Dan: What do you mean "near"?

Q. Any thing else to say?

Dan: Thanks for the interview. I hope I made for a worthwhile read. Check out the Cheap Tragedies record when it comes out (and everything else they release), and the Omegas 7" when it comes out. And buy some records from our webstore since we need to raise some scratch!


-cja said...

awesome read. Dan is a good dude and i wish him more luck with the label.

William Patrick Wend said...

One of my favorite friends ever. I met Dan in 1996. I think I was 16, so he must've been 14 or 15. I called him for directions to a show he was doing and we ended up talking a lot on the phone and hanging out at shows.

I remember watching Ka-Boom play a bunch. The lady in that band Kelly was really nice. Haven't seen her in years though...

I think Dan was the one who turned me onto Out Cold. Infest too. He suggested at a show for me to pick up that bootleg CD (this must've been late 96...I remember it was freezing cold outside).

eric said...

I will admit that Deathcycle was a great NYHC band. There doesn't seem to be very many good hardcore bands these days (that are not the numetal / metal crossover garbage).

Its a shame that Deathcycle are dead and gone; having played their last show just a few months ago it means there is one last fantastic hardcore/punk band to keep us informed and entertained.