If you're not familiar, SONS OF ISHMAEL were a great hardcore band from around Ontario, Canada, that existed from 1985 to 1991. They played a fast thrashy style akin to classic DRI, early JERRYS KIDS or VERBAL ABUSE, high energy and manic hardcore that was best captured on their debut 7" from 1985, 'Hayseed Hardcore'. Listen to some tracks on their myspace here ('Break Free' is a classic!). GREAT STUFF.
Q 1. How did you first get into hardcore? Did you get into the old Canadian bands (DOA, Neos etc) first? Can you remember the first band you heard described as 'hardcore' punk rather than just punk?
Myke: I heard the DOA song "Fuck You" on the local college radio station and was hooked. The shock value of the cussing had a lot to do with it. DOA in turn was the gateway band to louderharderfaster stuff like MDC.
Chris: I’d sort of heard punk and HC in the background at house parties, but then a friend gave me a cassette tape with Black Flag’s My War on one side, and Dead Kennedy’s “A Skateboard Party” on the other. I listened to that tape every fucking night while I delivered ribs in my Datsun 510. I then found “Brave New Waves” on CBC Radio.
Paul: My introduction was in December 1982 when we saw a Dead Kennedys album at the Sam The Record Man store and bought it. I was introduced to more of it by listening to fuzzy broadcasts from Carleton University radio in Ottawa when it was audible over the static. As I heard more of it I was introduced to NEOS, PORCELAIN FOREHEAD, STRETCH MARKS etc. but no more or less than the English or American stuff of the time. DOA were already more well known than the rest at the time as even they got records into Sam The Record Man too. At the time hardcore in rural areas was pretty much a well kept secret and few knew of it. Apart from DOA or DK's, you couldn't buy the records any place but the big cities.
Daragh: I also grew up in a fairly small town and information about punk and hardcore wasn't so easy to come by at the time. My parents are from Ireland and Germany and I have very distinct memories of visiting family and having the BOOMTOWN RATS make a big impression on me when I saw them on Irish TV, which led to me getting my first LP. Later I was interested in finding something more aggressive than the "new wave" I was listening to at the time but what I considered to be "old" British punk like the Sex Pistols wasn't all that appealing to me. From time to time I would find the odd used LP in my small hometown and buy it based on the cover and as Chris mentioned, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio program Brave New Waves helped introduce those of us living away from the big city centers to music we wouldn't have heard otherwise. Two bands that finally provided the "A-ha!!!!" moment I was waiting for were the DEAD KENNEDYS and BLACK FLAG and fairly soon tape trading and fanzines helped fill in more of the gaps.
Q 2. What was the first hardcore band you saw live, if you remember? What attracted you to the music in the first place (the energy, the anger, the haircuts?...)...
Myke: My first hardcore show was DOA at Assumption Hall on the University of Windsor campus in February 1984. I was really worried for my safety before I went. I didn't know what to expect from "punk rockers." In the end, they were very forgiving of my mullet.
Chris: I went to see Youth Brigade at the Latvian House in Toronto in ’84 or ‘85, but they didn’t show up so I saw the Bunchofuckingoofs. I thought they played soooo fast! What attracted me was the swearing and anger. That and it was so different from everything else you could hear on the radio at that time. It sounded dangerous.
Myke: That's it exactly. It sounded dangerous.
Paul: I remember it very well. In fact it was July 1983 and the band was MDC at the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club. There were 4 bands, it was hotter than Hades and I was hooked. First and foremost I was attracted by the music and it's frenetic pace but I cannot really pinpoint what else made it so great.
Daragh: Well, technically the first real band I ever saw was JOHNNY CASH. However, since I was in Grade 3 at the time it wasn't all that interesting and running outside to play "cops and robbers" with my brother took precedence. Later I saw some "new wave" stuff like CABARET VOLTAIRE and some reggae like Toronto's 20th CENTURY REBELS but as I lived about two hours from Toronto it seemed like it took forever before I was finally able to catch a HC band live. I couldn't drive and only one or two of my friends in my hometown were really into the same music at the time. Also, I didn't know anyone in Toronto so the extent of my exposure to things happening there was taking a bus ride to the city to buy records, zines and to collect flyers. On a few occasions I bought tickets for shows and would get turned away from the club for being too young and just take the bus back home. In the summer of 86 I finally saw a flyer for an all ages show with some local bands and a band called NO SYSTEM from Boston. I took the bus up to Toronto knowing that I was finally going to get in! Circle pits, fast music, buying fanzines, it all seemed pretty fantastic.
Q 3. What was the scene like around Meaford, Ontario like before SONS OF ISHMAEL started? Was it an active scene, or did you travel to other cities (ie Toronto) in order to play shows?
Paul: I joined the band after they left Meaford and went to Toronto, so I cannot comment much. However, being from a tiny town of 1000 in eastern Ontario I had a parallel existence to the guys from Meaford so I will fill you in on hardcore in rural Ontario. There was NO "scene" outside of large cities in the early 80's. The entire Leeds County probably had less than 10 people actively listening to the music. It is nothing like it was 15 or so years after that. If you wanted records or wanted to see shows you had to go to Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto. Having said that I managed to find two others in my town who liked the music and played the right instruments to form a band. See next question.
Daragh: I joined the band much later (in 1990) but growing up and trying to be into punk in a small town in the 80s was not a great deal of fun. I remember a school friend getting beat up by other students in 1983 and having his mohawk cut off while our school principle laughed. Events like that helped solidify my determination to not "give in" and be like "them". As strange as it sounds in retrospect, it really felt like something as superficial as a haircut or a t-shirt was making a strong statement and was enough to invite harassment at the time.
Q 4. What other bands had you guys been in before (tell us about ANGRY THALIDOMIDE BABIES, what a name)...
Myke: My first band was Sanitary Napkins, which was a band on paper mostly. My second band was a duo called Butt Plugz. We did covers of Ramones and Killing Joke songs, as I recall. I played my guitar directly into one channel of my cassette deck. Matt played his bass directly into the other channel. Eventually we joined up with Paul A (later of One Blood, now of Legion) and starting writing our own songs. That band was called Burning Rectal Itch... See any patterns?
Chris: My first band was Charlie Brown’s Wang. We practised a lot, but I never played a show with them. After I got kicked out, I joined up with the Sons at a D.O.A. show sometime in ’86. (Paul remembers the exact date, I’m sure… Paul?)
Paul: I appreciate your confidence in my memory, Chris, but I have no idea! I was a in a band in Athens, Ontario from 1984-85 before moving to Toronto. We were called DISORDERLY FASHION but never really got out of our town.
Daragh: Nothing notable or interesting before or since! Still, I reckon the temptation to "make some noise" never fully goes away. On that note, while punk bands reforming can be a contentious issue in some parts, I have to say that I have a great deal of respect for bands like GAUZE from Japan or SEEIN RED from Holland who keep going year after year and still sound as vital as ever.
Q 5. What one band had the biggest impact on SONS OF ISHMAEL? In sound, and in attitude (who made you think "YES, I want to do a band too")? What bands influenced the manic thrash sound? Also, were you influenced by bands from overseas (Europe, Japan etc)?
Myke: To me, the early Sons of Ishmael stuff sounds like it was inspired by Jerry's Kids, which was a good band to be inspired by. If we'd been able to snare Brian Betzger as our drummer ... we'd have been deprived of Chris's friendship. The Crucifucks would have been one influence that led the band away from its manic thrash sound.
Chris: I think going to shows and seeing people that looked like me getting up on stage and playing was the biggest “I can do that!” moment for me. They weren’t “rock star” looking – just regular guys in jeans and t-shirts. Probably seeing S.O.I. before I joined them was inspiring. I remember thinking I’d like to be in that band.
Daragh: Again, I was the "late comer" to the band but I have very fond memories of getting the Hayseed Hardcore 7" in the mail and catching SOI live in Toronto. At the time I never would have guessed that I would end up playing in the band one day.
Q 6. How did you see the hardcore scene change from 1985 onwards? How do you respond to the argument that hardcore punk "died" in 1986? How was it different than before?
Myke: Hardcore is young people's music. It appeals particularly to young musicians that are just learning how to play their instrument(s) because it's a style that's fairly easy to play. As they improve, these budding, young prodigies continue to play with and for the same people they always have... Then at some point some authority decides it's not hardcore anymore and the world ends.
Chris: It got more serious and less humorous (with exceptions). Metal started to permeate in a big way (Crossover). Songs got longer, and equipment got better. By the early 90s the musicianship started to really improve (although, not necessarily the music). Today, it’s rare to hear a HC band that sounds like 80s HC. Hatebreed, Terror (which I listen to and like a lot) etc. are called hardcore today, but in the 80’s they would have been been called metal.
Paul: I think in the summer of '86 in Toronto things were more alive than ever. With a reliable venue and reliable promoters it seemed there were tons of bands coming through town that summer and it was a blast. By summer of 1987 things seemed dead despite a few large shows. I think by this time things were starting to sound the same and it was not fresh anymore and that's why you get the "death notices" from various punks. It seemed that there was a complete turnover of participants every few years.
Daragh: As I said, I spent a couple years visiting Toronto to buy records but age and a lack of contacts in the city meant that while I was collecting flyers for what looked like incredible shows (Articles of Faith, Battalion of Saints, even Einsturzende Neubaten around '85) I was missing a lot of it. A little while later I was fortunate to have lived in Germany in '87 and I was able to see and take inspiration from a lot of what was happening there at the time. Catching touring bands like Concrete Sox, Chaos UK, Heresy, Larm, Negazione or even Chumbawamba ensured that punk felt very much "alive" to me at the time. I had a similar experience while living in Japan between 1998 and 2007. Seeing bands like Gauze, Bastard, Gism, Corrupted, Forward and countless others was further proof that there are still a great deal of incredibly vital and powerful bands out there.
Q 7. Do you think the fact that your debut, 'Hayseed Hardcore', came out in 1985 as opposed to say 1983 impeded the band's popularity? (since by 1985 so many bands were playing metal/crossover, or had "progressed", while SONS OF ISHMAEL were still playing straight forward hardcore not unlike early DRI/VERBAL ABUSE)
Myke: The band broke up repeatedly so that its various members could pursue other opportunities. As a result, it was never able to build much of what you'd call momentum.
Chris: I don’t think so. There was still a sizeable audience for what we were doing in ’86 to ‘91 – they just didn’t come to our shows. Also, you have to compare North America to Europe. We had much bigger crowds and enthusiasm in Europe than in North America, for sure. Lots of girls too! But, we never had sex with them.
Q 8. Also, do you think being from Canada, rather than the US, meant you perhaps went more un-noticed than some of your peers from larger US cities?
Myke: A little bit maybe.
Chris: I’m sure things would have been very different had we lived in S.F.
Paul: No, it seemed of no concern of whether you were from USA or Canada but if you were from Washington, DC you could walk on water. Back then word spreads by way of trading of mix tapes and word of mouth.
Daragh: Agreed. Despite the lack of the internet at the time, tape trading and fanzines like MRR helped negate the distance and borders that separated people from bands from different parts of the world.
Q 9. What are your three favourite Canadian hardcore bands of all time, and why? Who was always really good live?
Myke: The Andy Kerr-era version of Nomeansno was magic, both live and on record. There were always good local bands, too: No Mind and Guilt Parade, for example. As far as live shows go, SNFU was always fun.
Chris: I’d have to say Nomeansno, along with SCUM and Fair Warning, both from Montreal. Montreal bands were always really good. Countdown Zero, Genetic Control, Asexuals among many. I loved early Sudden Impact as well.
Paul: It is hard to identify the "best bands" because most of them did not last that long or have a prolific output. If they did, they likely changed for the worse or put out bad records. SNFU was one of the best live bands. I'd say my 3 favourites are The Spores, Asexuals and Subhumans. I can't remember who really stood out as there were many.
Daragh: I never saw them live but I think the YOUTH YOUTH YOUTH record from Toronto still sounds great. They had a pretty unique sound and I would say that they were a band that perhaps went underappreciated internationally at the time. As far as a "top three" list of Canadian bands of all time goes, it's too difficult! It's pretty subjective depending on what someone has been exposed to and when. I'd agree with Myke and Chris that NOMEANSNO and SNFU both seemed pretty impeccable at a certain point in time but to someone catching those bands in their present form and comparing them with more recent Canadian bands (Career Suicide, Endless Blockade, Inepsy or Cursed, for example) that statement might make very little sense. Seriously, I have a hard time answering this one and in the end what I have to say about it just isn't all that important.
Myke: I agree with Daragh on the Youth Youth Youth record. A big influence on me at the time.
Q 10. When did you first tour Europe? I heard something about you getting stranded in a European squat? How did you find Europe different to Canada/US, in terms of the hardcore scene and how things were done?
Myke: Our first tour of Europe was during the summer of 1990. And yes, we were stranded behind the barbed-wire walls of a squat for about nine weeks. It was a pretty big squat that spanned several countries. But seriously, folks, Europe was very, very kind to Sons of Ishmael.
Chris: I arranged both tours with a phone and a fax machine. It must be soooo much easier now with email and Skype, but we didn’t have that back in the olden days.
I loved Europe. It looked different, and felt different. There was art, architecture, and urban landscapes that are so different from over here. The people may be been dirtier and smellier, but they more than made up for it in organization, competence, and enthusiasm for what we were doing. But, we never had sex with them.
Daragh: Yep, Europe was fantastic! Um, I don't remember being stranded but I remember spending the first part of a tour at a squat in London with no running water. After about a week I felt compelled to strip down to my underwear and jump in a water fountain outside of a posh hotel in the city in a feeble attempt to bathe. Or if by stranded you mean almost having to sit through hours of Poll Tax Riot videos while in London, well, you'll have to get someone else to comment on that one.
Q 11. I've heard various funny stories about SONS OF ISHMAEL shows; can you tell 3 stories of some of the funniest things that ever happened?
Myke: Wow, so many funny stories, so many of which involved ruining someone else's day... I laughed really hard the night we spent trying to encourage a large dog to hump a pal sleeping on the floor. I also laughed really hard the day our van got towed in Barcelona and was driven into a wall on the way back from the pound. Some cretin stealing my chorus from the stage in Derry while I was out in the van fetching merchandise ... that was a highlight, too.
Chris: I don’t think I ever laughed so much than the time Tim got on his hands and knees and serenaded us for an hour so with his farts.
Myke: That was funny.
Paul: We had to pay to play our own show in San Angelo, Texas.
Daragh: Being in a band with Tim as a vocalist pretty much ensured that every gig was entertaining in one way or another. He was a pretty incredible front man to say the least.
Q 12. SONS OF ISHMAEL displayed a strong element of cynicism and sarcasm, especially towards the hardcore scene in general. What was it about hardcore that, in the mid-80s, left a bad taste in your mouth (so to speak)?
Myke: The inability of some people in the HC scene to think for themselves and make their own decisions made their company very oppressive after a while. I had no respect for authority at the time, regardless of what kind of haircut it had. I still don't.
Of course, "group think" is not unique to the hardcore scene. It happens any time individuals try to work together. To be accepted as part of the team, you have to turn a blind eye to dishonesty, inconsistency and all that other shit.
Daragh: I think part of the band dynamic involved confounding people's expectations, something that became increasingly apparent as time went on and the band attempted to sing less "generic crap". I'm not sure how well some of the ideas translated but writing about rock formations (Paul) and incorporating polka elements into the music (Paul) was, if nothing else, doing something different.
Q 13. Tell us about when rednecks chased you out of Sault St. Marie...
Myke: It was about midnight when we decided to stop for breakfast at a roadside diner in the Soo. As we walked back to our van, a longhair in the parking lot made a comment about Paul's haircut. Safely inside the van, I rolled down the passenger side window and asked him to elucidate, but before he could, Chris put the pedal to the metal and we were on our way. The longhair tried to catch up to us in his pick-up and enlisted the support of two friends on a motorcycle, but our paths never crossed again, which is my single greatest disappointment. Tim was even brushing his teeth in anticipation of the meating.
Chris: Myke, you forgot to mention my excellent driving as we raced through the streets, running redlights and stops signs. At one point I made a quick left and the pick up truck when straight through. Watching Starsky and Hutch really paid off. Since then, I've heard stories from other bands who had things go down in the Soo. But, we never had sex with them.
Q 14. During your long tour of the US in 1987, how do think the hardcore scene differed from state to state? What bands are you glad to have played with on this tour?
Myke: All of them, really, but particularly Porn Orchard in Myrtle Beach and Penfold's Revenge in Chicago.
Chris: Playing in California was pretty amazing. Our show in San Diego with the Adolescents, and a bunch of other bigger bands really showed how ingrained the scene was down there. It was still underground, but really big. San Fran was great too. Gilman Street and MRR house: Wow. So much media – radio, zines, photography, and scenesters everywhere. I’m proud to say we played with Nomeansno, Government Issue, C.O.C., and Youth of Today on that tour. I like to speculate that little kids like Billie Joe Armstrong and Kurt Cobain might have seen us play in SF and Tacoma!
Myke: I've always wondered if Kurt Cobain was at our Tacoma show, too. Might explain why Nirvana did so many Sons of Ishmael covers.
Paul: Chris never had sex with him.
Q 15. Regarding the 'Pariah Martyr Demands a Sacrifice' LP, why is the production so bad? I have heard before that it is because the band couldn't be bothered to hire decent equipment?
Myke: By mistake, we booked time in a studio that didn't usually record guitar music. Its name was similar to the name of the studio we really wanted, but it wasn't the one we had in mind. We fucked up. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was that our equipment was utter shiite: Paul was playing a $100 guitar through a keyboard amplifier, for example. Mistake number three was when the rest of the band ignored my pleas for more bass in the mix. Actually, now that I think about it, mistake number one was accepting money from a record label to record a bunch of songs that weren't very good to start with. This should serve as a lesson to all young people: money has a way of influencing decisions for the worse, in music and elsewhere.
Chris: That was my first recording studio experience and I have to admit I was completely unprepared. We agonized over the release of that record for months. Remixing it at huge expense ($200??) before finally sending it off to Over the Top. Seeing it in vinyl for the first time was a thrill, but that was soon replaced with mortification at the quality of the thing. I like the cover...?
Q 16. Why did you end up splitting up in 1991? How had you seen things change over the 6 years of your existence? Did the advent of grunge move things along? Is it true your last show was opening for Hole as you stated on the band's bio?
Myke: Paul and Daragh had girlfriends and didn't want to go on tour again. Tim chose not to continue playing with Chris and I and whomever we might find to "replace" Paul and Daragh. It was very disappointing, as I thought our newest songs, and we had a lot of them, were among our best.
Chris: Our last show in Toronto was opening for Hole, at the Rivoli, a very small room. But, our last show was actually in Ottawa in early ’92 (Paul, date?). I wore the same DOA shirt I wore at my very first show in Guelph in ’86!
Paul: Chris, I think you wore that stinky yellow Beethoven shirt in Guelph. It is true that our last show was in the Blue Room at U of O in Ottawa but I cannot remember the date. Daragh could not make the gig (hangnail? ) so either I or Myke played bass and I am sure it was an underwhelming way to end. It was not a girlfriend that kept me from touring for that would never happen. It was road burnout mostly.
Myke: I did not know that.
Chris: It was my DOA shirt, and I have the pics to prove it.
Daragh: My recollection was that not everyone was interested in doing more DIY-type touring and that some people were interested in trying something else musically. My "plan" after SOI broke up was to get another band going but the reality was that I spent a few summers as a roadie and driver for friends' bands going across North America, promoting diy shows for a while, and running a telephone "hotline" that listed upcoming punk shows and events in Toronto. Hangnail rumours aside, as for missing the final show in Ottawa, I was informed pretty late that the show was happening and had just started a new job and a weekend shift. I couldn't get anyone to cover for me and as great as it was to work in a photocopy shop for the next five years it was a shame to miss the last show. Regardless, despite the band breaking up everyone stayed active in some capacity; whether playing in other bands (everyone at one point or another), running a label (Chris), putting out the odd 7" record (me), or releasing a pretty awesome cassette of parodies of popular punk songs (Paul); so while the band ended, our interest and involvement in music did not.
Q 17. Was the band never tempted to go down the crossover/thrash route, in an attempt to ride the wave of METALLICA's success in order to become rich?
Myke: Uh, no. Personally, I was tempted to going down the college rock route blazed by Dinosaur Jr and the Jesus Lizard--not for the sake of money, mind you, but just because the music and its fans were more interesting. I got to a point, fairly early on, where I thought that an occasional loudhardfast song would be a great thing to leaven a set, but it wasn't something I wanted to play song after song of.
Q 18. Similarly were you never tempted to start playing in the style of the youth crew bands that was becoming so popular coast to coast? I heard you shared a stage with YOUTH OF TODAY once, how was that?
Myke: I wasn't interesting in playing by anyone else's rules. As for sharing a stage with Youth of Today, I have no recollection of this. I remember hangin' out with dem shits in SF for a cupola days. They seemed to be very interested in sports and muscles and stuff, which doesn't do it for me, but they were nice.
Chris: Yep, we played with them at Gilman. I broke my snare mid-way through our set and Mike Judge lent me his. I still have their Nerf football. It has “Youth Tour ‘87” written on it. But, we never had sex with them.
Paul: They, in fact, opened for us at that show. I believe they had a 20 hour drive to Mormonia and had to play earlier.
Q 19. How important do you think having a message was to playing in a hardcore punk band? Did you often encounter people who just wanted to dance hard but didn't care what anyone had to say? On the other hand, how did SONS OF ISHMAEL feel about very politicised or anarcho hardcore/peace punk bands of the time?
Myke: I think the most important things are passion and creativity. Whether your lyrics are about man's inhumanity to man or a parakeet drowning in a toilet, if the song ain't got that swing, it don't mean a thing, yo.
Chris: We had those people (Harry Hardcore types) at pretty much every show and they’d be the first people to the bar or out the door after we finished. It was the folks who came up to us after or to our merch table who seemed the most enlightened to what we were saying. We met lots of really great people and had some real quality discussions. But, we never had sex with them.
I remember my moment of disconnect with anarcho/political types. It was in London UK and we were visiting some lefty collective. They were situated in a 15 storey apartment block that had one elevator (no light). As we sat around watching video from the Trafalgar Square poll tax riots, they took great pleasure in repeatedly watching a policeman get a metal sign planted into the side of his head as he was driving by. I remember thinking, wow, I’ve got nothing in common with these dolts.
Daragh: If anything, one thing I took away from my involvement in the scene is how easy it is for someone to write progressive and politically aware lyrics and still be a wretch of a human being. As for how this relates to SOI, I believe it's far better to be in a band with sometimes fairly opaque or cynical lyrics performed by fundamentally decent people than to simply wave the nearest banner while treating the people you deal with on a day-to-day basis poorly.
Q 20. Anything else to add? Say whatever you feel.
Myke: Thanks for showing an interest. I haven't had to answer questions like these in about fifteen years and I really enjoyed doing it. One other thing... There's a lot of good music being made today, too. Give Pissed Jeans a try, or Black Lips. If you're a little more adventurous, a listen to Califone, Deerhoof or Old Time Relijin might be worth your while.
Daragh: Agreed, I cringe at any suggestion that punk or hardcore died in '85 or '86 and really feel that the people who make those claims are being somewhat presumptuous if not downright disingenuous (not to mention the fact that some of these people attempt to draw a pay cheque from something they now claim to be "dead"). There's still a great deal of fun and fantastic music to be had by anyone willing to look for it.
More importantly perhaps, I'd like to commend the other SOI guys on remaining true to themselves and staying creative. Paul turned his hobby and interest in hockey into a successful business, Myke has been working for environmental organizations for many years, Chris has kept progressing in computer work, Tim is a University Professor, I teach at a college, etc. As with punk, life is what you make it and it's never time time to think you've seen or done it all.
Paul: I suggest you try Irish Rovers or Grandpa Jones.
Chris: There's talk of a Hayseed Hardcore re-release on 12" vinyl, that will include additional tracks that were used on comps. We'll post any info on the website (which is, for now, our MySpace page) at http://www.sonsofishmael.com/.
Also, if anybody has video, pics, or recordings of us, we'd love to see them! We're putting together a website and it'd be cool to include whatever we can get (that's good). You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.