Perhaps it is somewhat ironic that although joining ANTiSEEN as a guitarist, I never really considered myself a guitarist. Of course, I don’t think Joe Young did either. To him it was a point of great pride that with his limited skill and ability he still managed to tour the world and make dozens of records – which remains a mere dream to the so-called “talented” and “skilled” musicians that have ridiculed ANTiSEEN with contempt and envy.
Although barely above a rudimentary level, Joe’s style clearly packed a devastating punch. Studying it now I realize how deceptively simple his dynamics were. He relied heavily on sustained notes rather than jackhammering away with down strokes a ’la Johnny Ramone. Coupled with his trademark fuzz tone he created a massive wall of noise and wisely allowed the rhythm section to develop phrasing and hooks. In some ways it reminds me more of the Who than the Ramones. But therein lays one of the great things about ANTiSEEN; their varied stylistic influence and approach. Musically they are far cleverer than many seem to recognize or acknowledge. It proves my belief that sometimes ineptitude can yield a fresher, more exciting result.
It also makes the music easily accessible. I probably would never have bothered trying to learn anything on guitar if not for the music of ANTiSEEN. After learning how to position my fingers correctly to form a barre chord I suddenly realized I could play along with their records – and very often did. While some of my friends progressed far past me, I found myself content to blast away giant fuzzed out chords, searching less for the lost notes than the lost noise… just like Joe Young.
As Mad Brother Ward I served as lead vocalist and front man, however my band prior to that I played guitar. My bandmates would often give me flack about sounding “too much like ANTiSEEN”. At the time I resented it, thinking I sounded nothing like them but looking back I see it was probably true. The influence of Joe Young wasn’t how he played, rather how he sounded: dirty and loud.
I distinctly remember seeing them play a short-lived club in Charlotte called the New Millennium. Joe played thru a Hiwatt amp, a combo with a single 12” speaker. It was the gnarliest, nastiest and loudest shit I ever heard. It still stands in my memory of one of their most memorable sets, largely due to just how awesomely chaotic and menacing he sounded that night. It also directly influenced my decision to purchase a Hiwatt amp of my own when I was told I would be joining the band.
Another favorite memory of mine is the time I tried turning on some of my high school friends to ANTiSEEN. They just couldn’t wrap their closed minds around it. To them rock & roll music was all high gloss, spit and polish slick production and neo-classical virtuosity, mythic maestros traversing the globe in private jets, limousines and tricked-out tour buses. To their ears this was some sort of alien cave man noise, void of anything they could relate to. One friend sourly asked; “is the guitar supposed to sound like that?”…
That only made me love it more.
Later I realized what a pivotal moment that was for me. I suddenly had become more musically aware, better equipped and readily able to distinguish the exceptional from the mediocre. I had fortunately discovered that “talent” and “skill” sometimes are adversarial to getting the job done right.
I still can’t ever get it quite dirty enough. Tracking down Joe’s signature tone while still allowing some sonic space for my own stamp has proved difficult. This makes me appreciate what Joe contributed all the more. He made what he did look and sound easy, but I can assure you – it is not easy. Any change I dare make has got to be subtle in a realm that allows no subtleties. So I seriously doubt anyone will notice. In fact, as with the aforementioned ex-bandmates, some may dismiss what I do as “sounding just like Joe”…
But to me that’s gonna be a compliment.