Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Continuing Part One with Aram Betrayed/React! Records, Champion...

Aram truly loves hardcore. He loves hardcore in such a way that to not include him in part one would actually be heresy. I've been friends with Aram for years and he is one of the most thoughtful person to ever have a disagreement with. In recent years he has done time fronting Betrayed and playing guitar in the mighty Champion. His experience and interaction with hardcore has given him some amazing insight in which he shares with us and its a true delight to have his ideas in this series.

There seems to be a void in sincerity and concentration in Hardcore if you ask me. I’d like to hear what you’d like to see kids focus on? Where is there too much focus these days?
I see two things that are really prevalent in hardcore right now and that’s “fantasy” hardcore and “boutique” hardcore. “Fantasy” hardcore is when people write on topics that they have no actually experience with or emotional attachment to, and try to portray themselves as being something that they’re not.
DUDE- YOU ARE LIVING A FANTASY. Not only is it obviously insincere, it’s also an insult to the people who have actually really had those experiences.

“Boutique” hardcore is something that I feel is relatively new. It’s not something you live, but rather something that you experience. You catalogue it, you document it, you take pictures of, you obsess over in your blog, and above all you buy it. You don’t live it you put up on a self to admire it for the artistic aesthetic. Its kind of the musical/cultural equivalent to a fixed gear bike– hardcore for the hip.

I think there is far too much focus on the style of HC rather than the message or lifestyle. So in that regard I’d like to see people start to look into WHY they are into hardcore. Like ask yourself, “Is this just something for me to do, or does it mean something?

As time moves on certain customs of our culture are dying out. Which custom would you like to see get a rebirth in 09? If only for aesthetics, what do you miss most of all when you walk up to a show to when the first note of the first band hits?
I really miss the crowd being up front at shows. Moshing and crowd busting have changed the dynamic of live shows. Rather than having people packed up front ready to sing along, people stand in that awkward U-shape and then rush forward to sing along, and then hightail it back for safety. Sorry kung-fu dudes I know you like to get buck-wild but it’s really made shows lame. When people stand in that U-shape it also keeps people from diving, which is such an awesome part of a live HC show, and that sucks the energy out of the room even more.

If you want shows to be fun and exciting then watch the, “Anthem” video by Agnostic Front and then do that. Get on stage and skank, dive off guitar cabs and monitors, grab the mic from the singer. Now for you kung-fu guys, you can still do your thing- just do it 10 away from the stage so that people can actually have fun.

You know once in Australia with Betrayed I talked about this on stage and people were psyched and the show was wild. But after we played this dude with a bandana and a tattoo of Jesus on his neck came up to me a got really steamed. He felt I was disrespecting his way of expressing himself at the show. It was weird because he was 1 person out of 150 and the other 149 wanted to sing along, stage dive, and circle pit. But, he wanted to stand in front of the stage, kick people in the back, and run into the crowd punching. It seemed like a pretty clear-cut case of him disrespecting how everyone else wanted to express themselves at the show. He didn’t see my side of it, but I gave him a Red Bull and he worked it out for himself.

You’ve done “enough” in hardcore to rest upon your laurels yet I find you working harder towards something that most kids today aren’t even capable of understanding its importance in the cogs of progress. Can you tell me why you’ve decided to do REACT! and you’re goals are? Is there one company or person that you’ve modeled this project after?

As insanely lame and cliché as it sounds- hardcore is in my blood. It’s the way I live my life, the scope through which I see, and an approach to engaging with what I think is fucked up in our world. I may not always play in bands- but I will always LIVE hardcore. That doesn’t mean that quote Side By Side all day and it doesn’t mean that talk non-stop about how, “Brightside” by Killing Time is a perfect record. It means that I have an unrelenting drive to be a part of our culture and try to giveback just as much as I’ve had the chance to take. Plus I love the Warzone self titled record- that really speaks volumes of what a truly legit character I am.

I started REACT! because I wanted to help bands get their message out there. We are living in some really troubled times and I think people need to speak up and I feel that the bands like Get the Most, Right Idea, and Mindset really have something to say. Beyond that- I love fast late 80’s hardcore and the art/aesthetic of that era of the core and I want REACT! to reflect that as well. So basically it’s about providing a voice for great bands with a message and then also putting a lot of time and care into the presentation of that voice. Intense attention is paid to every detail of each release so that when people get it hopefully that can see that and know that it’s an effort of love.

I definitely modeled the vibe of my label off early Revelation/Wishing Well Records but in terms of how it’s ran I’m 100% inspired and guided by Bridge 9, Deathwish Inc, Youngblood, Reaper, Powered, Six Feet Under, Rivalry, and Malfunction. Those labels are run by people that actually care about hardcore and who work their asses off to make sure bands have a voice. I can’t even begin to tell you how much Chris Wrenn, and Tre MaCarthy have helped my run the day-to-day of my label. Both have answered dozens of questions for me and gone way out of their way to support all of my releases. Furthermore, Michaelanne Jerome and Dave Larson have actually let me run REACT! out of their house in Seattle for the past year which is just such a generous and kind thing for them to do.

To be clear about this- the people in my life have been such an inspiration for me to do REACT! that I feel that the label goes beyond just the bands and me, I feel that people like Chris Wrenn and Tre, and all of my friends are a legitimate part of everything that REACT! does.

At one point does one truly decide that enough is enough and action is necessary to counter misdeeds of others, or a failed situation that hurts the community? Is there ever been a situation in your local scene where you felt like you could do nothing to change what was going on?
Well, in hardcore you always have people who are trying to prove themselves, or impress some idea about themselves onto others. Like, “fear me” or “respect me”, and that can be through violence, social pressure, or the cowardliness of the internet. The thing to keep in mind is that the world has ACTUAL problems that require our attention so in general I recommend not paying attention to that garbage.

But yes- sometimes situations do come up where enough is enough and things have to be dealt with. I’ve never shied away from those types of things, but I’ve also been very cautious about how I deal with them. The thing I keep in mind is that real change is made with an open hand than a closed fist, so in that regard I’ve tried to effect change in a very peaceful way.

Today I’d say the Edge is dull. I’d say it’s nothing more then a bath towel to keep the kids dry til they “grow up” and want to be more like everyone else. Would you say we’ve homogenized the edge to the point that the “rebel” factor has completely died out?
Well Straight Edge is a trend for most people and there’s no way to deny that. People get into it- are all gung-ho about it for 3 or 4 years, and then drop it when they get older. While I would love it if people stuck to it I also actually don’t really think that’s a bad things necessarily- I mean people are getting a chance to stay clean for a few years and get through points in their lives where they can really screw themselves up. Hopefully when/if they are done with the edge they’re in a place in their life where they can use responsibly and be healthy and safe. I try to be pragmatic about it and just accept people for who they want to be.

As for the edge being weak right now- yup I agree with you and I think it’s the fault of the bands and older edgemen/women. Hey, if you’re a Straight Edge band tell me WHY. If you have an X on your hand tell me WHY. What is important about the lifestyle and beliefs? Why is it a vital thing to your existence? Like make Straight Edge something real rather than just a way to identify the brand of music you play, or a cool thing to wear like an accessory. A big part of what I’m trying to do with REACT! is to talk about why I’m Straight Edge, what I find important about it, why I think it’s a smart way of living. Furthermore, I’m trying to encourage people taking something like Straight Edge and using that as a foundation for further growth. Don’t just stop using drugs and alcohol- try to live a good life, be the best person you can be!

I want you to name 5 bands that mean nothing to anyone the way they mean to you and why.

Beyond Possession- I grew up in Calgary Alberta, which is an isolated city in the middle of the prairies of Canada. Somehow a punk scene developed there in the early 80’s and Beyond Possession was without a doubt the breakout band. They melded hardcore and thrash and put out two unreal records, “Tell Tale Heart” EP which was released locally and the, “… Is Beyond Possession” LP which was released on Metal Blade. Despite being isolated up in Calgary BP not only became HUGE in Canada, but also managed to do multiple tours down the West Cast and even did a full US tour- which at the time was a really big deal.

They matter to me because when I was coming up in HC they were the archetype of DIY spirit. These guys didn’t wait for it to happen, they made it happen for themselves and that made a huge impression on me When I started playing music I never just waited for a handout, I made things happen for myself, and that’s something that’s just been valuable to my life in general. Beyond Possession played a role in helping to kinder that in me… and they wrote such SICK records!!!

Blindside- I know there have been a lot of bands called Blindside, so to specify this was the Blindside from Edmonton Alberta and they were the first Straight Edge band I ever saw live. By the late 80’s I’d been jamming lots of thrash and punk and by 1990 I was pretty much exclusively listening to early Dischord, Revelation, and the NYHC bands like Cro Mags, AF, SOIA, etc. Although I loved hardcore I kind of felt like a poser being into it because when I’d look at the records I’d see these huge tattooed dudes who looked like they spent all day jumping through brick walls. I was like, “I’m a skinny little dude from the suburbs… am I allowed to listen to this stuff????”. It’s funny looking back at those records because a lot of the dudes that I though were huge scary guys, now just look like normal teenagers to me.

Anyway- at that time grunge had hit and locally nothing was happing musically that really got me psyched. I mean there were tons of bands, and they were actually really good, but there was nothing that came close to matching the unreal jams that were coming out of my stereo. But, in the winter of 1990 I had the chance to catch Blindside and they really changed the way I viewed my place in HC. These guys played HARD and FAST, had songs about real day struggles, and actually looked like my friends and me. Seeing them up on stage ripping so hard really made me feel that hardcore was where I could be more than just a fan- that I could actually be a part of it. That was something that made a major impact in my life and helped to set me on that path that I’m on today. Seriously the three Blindside demos are AWESOME!!!

Road Crew Orange- When I was a kid we all played in bad bands, RCO was the first of my friend’s bands that got legitimately good. They were a punk band from Calgary, and the singer Rob (who currently sings in a punk band called The Dog Faced Models) was a great frontman. He was the first dude I knew who had a great record collection and he would always tape all of these new bands for us. He may or may not have been the guy who first got me into a lot of the stuff that I’m into today.

Anyway- all our bands all sucked, but when RCO put out their first demo it blew all our minds! This was legitimately good stuff and people in Calgary really started to get into them. That was so inspiring for all of us- people actually cared what our friends were doing! Immediately we all got serious about getting better, playing harder, and recording our music and that eventually lead us to getting our own demos out there. Man- that was a freaking exciting time of my life!! Road Crew Orange went on to record a second demo, which was even better than the first, but then broke up when the early 90’s PC wave hit Calgary. Great band!

Strain- Good lord! Strain were AWESOME. Imagine taking all the power of a tank, putting it in musical form, and then having a gorilla sing. EPIC. They had the 90’s heavy hardcore sound and put out a bunch of EPs on the German label Heart First and then a full length called, “Here and Now” on New Age Records and pretty much have a flawless discography. In fact, they never wimped out- they never did weird noise stuff, they never got melodic, they just always provided the ultimate crushing GROOVE.

Strain were important to me for a couple of reasons: They lived at home with their families, drove mustangs, and wore sweat pants on stage- yet still wrote some of the best HC at the time. It was just awesome to see dudes who weren’t caught up in trying to have an “image”, they just did what they pleased and people both loved and hated them for it. Also, they were the first band that I was friends with who ever went to Europe. I remember the bass player coming back from their first trip there and showing me video footage from the shows…. HOLY CRAP IT WAS AWESOME!!!! They just really inspired me to be who I wanted to be, and to set goals and make them happen.

Trial- Beyond being just an amazing band Trial also took me out on my first real tour. I roadied for them on the “Are These Our Lives” West Coast tour and the things that I learned on that trip I applied to Champion. Also, Timm Mac from Trial/Wait In Vain/Panic records is the reason that I joined Champion.

Trial were cool guys and a great band, and they gave a weirdo like me the chance to get out and see the West Coast for the first time. The van broke down one million times, I spent my birthday stranded in a parking lot, I saw Gilman Street, I met people I’m still friends with today, I pissed in bottles. It was great!

At the end of the day when you’re sitting on your porch with your lemonade and your grandkids are asking about your life, what do you share with them about your time in hardcore?

I’d share with them that I saw the world on my own terms. I was a part of something I believed in. My beliefs grew and evolved with time, but I never compromised them. I spoke out against what I thought was wrong. I made lasting friendships.

PS- I met your Grandmother through Myspace.

What is the most fundamentally important aspect of hardcore that you see drifting away? How do we fix it?

The most fundamentally important part of HC that I see drifting away is CARING- a genuine concern about what is going on in the world and the will to turn that concern into action. People seem to have been pacified by being “into” punk/hardcore and have been fooled into thinking that by just wearing the costume that they are making some kind of statement. Furthermore, instead of looking at the world around us people focus inward on our little scene and get caught up in petty bullshit that distracts them from real life. Here’s some reality for you- the powers that be would like nothing more for you to marginalize yourself by becoming obsessed with some little slice of culture. That way you stay distracted, follow the rules, and remain a dedicated consumer.

I don’t know if real CARING has ever been a part of HC. I like to think it has, but when I see people getting caught up in petty garbage I just feel sick inside. Oh shit! Did someone disrespect you? Holy fuck! Do they not wear “jaded” as gracefully as you do? Holy mother of god- does someone like the wrong bands? HELLO DUMMY!! HERE ARE SOME ACTUAL PROBLEMS: within 100 miles of where you live there are multiple people who are starving and have nowhere to sleep. Here’s another one- people within your community are still discriminated against because of their race, sex, or sexual orientation. Those are actual problems within every community in North America that people have the ability to effect in very real ways.

How do we fix it? First start by listening to, “Just Look Around” by Sick Of It All. I’m not even kidding- that song is so powerful and contains so much honest frustration that whenever I listen to it I get energized to do some good. Next, lets get the lines of communication open again! Lets talk about what’s going on and how we can help! Lets set REALISTIC goals and work on them. Hey- how about at your next show you do a food drive? Okay, how about you and some kids from the local scene volunteer once a week at the homeless shelter. Not into that? Okay, why not learn about the homeless situation in your city and then get that information out to the people in your scene- write about it, talk about it. Hey- is there a rally that supports gay marriage? Go to it! Bring your friends and wear YOT shirts. Talk with other people about how we can be more inclusive in our society, how we can respect people as they are rather than trying to force them to fit some mold. Don’ worry, you can easily wear so ill all over print shirt while doing this and rock some very fresh sneakers. Support people in supporting people. Be a decent human. Oh and stop eating animals because those guys are nice.

And now the counter to that, what is the latest element to hardcore that you find to be an insult to all you love and dear and when does it end?
Hardcore “professionals”. Guy- yes you- your band is not “professional”. I know things are going well for you but try to get some grip of REALITY. I don’t care if you tour 10 months a year and that your record is doing really, reeaaalllyy well. You are still in a hardcore band so grow a set and act like it. Don’t be rude to kids. Don’t talk down to promoters. Don’t ruin venues. That shit is more so you can tell the story- or so that people can tell the story about you- than it is about being in the moment. It’s totally weak and intensely boring.

Instead of traveling around the country and acting like either a shitty jock or a “shady dude” you have the opportunity to actually do something meaningful. Don’t fuck that up

1 comment:


awesome interview! really positive..aram had a lot of good things to say..

hey joe, can i link up this interview in my blog? - mic from the philippines