Thursday, December 31, 2020

Stick A Fork In It...

 Well. Ok then.

I'll be more than a little relieved when 2020 finally and literally becomes hindsight. This year has proven to be a roller coaster, which almost sounds fun but the proverbial ups and downs and loop-de-loops can get a bit nauseating. No matter how much fun it initially seems, eventually you just wanna get in the car and go the hell home. 

Even with the stupidity this virus has caused, the band somehow still managed to stay relatively productive and maintain forward momentum. We played two online shows that were very well received. The great irony is even with only two performances this year, we still managed to play before more people than had we actually been out travelling. That's the power of the internet. It hasn't been discussed but I wouldn't be surprised if we decide to do another. Meanwhile if you missed them, you can catch the Halloween show on YouTube while the other one is going to be released as a DVD in the very near future. Details on that are pending...

Jeff has been taking to Facebook every week with his "Break On Through" episodes. Basically he has been offering up his memories and observations of the entire history of the band. It's nothing he has scripted, just a stream of consciousness monologue and the occasional Q&A. Malcolm also has a running "Shoot Interview" series interviewing past members about their time with the band. So far he's featured Tom O'Keefe, Steve Sadler and Jon Bowman. As with the Halloween show, these are being compiled and archived along with live videos on our all-new YouTube channel, "ANTiSEEN Official". Thats right, a new YouTube channel. The old one, "ANTiSEENNC", is still up with load of classic stuff but we've started over fresh with this new channel, which we plan to be much more proactive with. I recommend giving it a visit and subscribing so you don't miss any of the cool stuff being uploaded every week. 

We are also working on demos for upcoming recording projects. Most of the material we've been working on is intended for our next full-length album, but we also have some cool stuff we hope to make happen that I'm excited about. I'm still not sure which will wind up taking the lead but I do know that its all gonna be something really killer, no matter what. 

At any rate making these demos give a little separation between writing a song and committing to it. Sometimes what you think is great doesn't necessarily turn out that way. You find maybe the tempo is too fast or slow or the pacing is wonky. Or maybe the phrasing of the lyric doesn't fit they way it did in your head when you wrote it. Sometimes an idea gets scrapped, even sometimes an entire song. Other times a scrapped idea might get resurrected and given new life in an entirely different song. It takes some patience and a willingness to occasionally let an idea go, no matter how much you may like it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. The demos don't lie. It's a good thing to have. 

We also released another 7" EP over the summer, our version of the Beautiful Beauregard song "Testify". If you don't have it, I recommend acting fast, it's almost gone. Plus we have the new 10" split with our friends Before I Hang that's out NOW. Our side is called "Guyana Grape". It's a three-part song that chronicles the horror of Jim Jones and his Jonestown massacre. The centerpiece is our take of a song called "The Last Hymn" originally written and recorded by a Texas band called the Hates. We built off and around it with original ideas of our own. Barry took it to another level in post-production and, well.... you just gotta hear it for yourself. 

So 2020 wasn't a total bust. Times are hard, sure, but this band seems to thrive on adversity. The tougher it gets, the tougher we get. And by "we" I mean us - including you. Because to a greater point - all of this is due to the support of all of you, the fans. We know a lot of y'all have really been sidelined this year. It's been really tough on some, and even tougher on others. To anyone who has given us any kind of support this year, whether you donated money to help produce the online shows, ordered a shirt or record, tuned in and watched the shows or the "Break On Through" or the "Shoot Interview Series" or took a little time out to read this blog... thank you

THANK YOU. 

Happy New Year y'all. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Something Wicked This Way Comes...


And so it is again Fall. The season when everything dies. The season that chases Summer warmth and long, late sunshine into a cold, dark, early twilight. Tis the season of witches and warlocks, of gremlins, ghouls, goblins and ghosts. The air is hushed with forboden winds carrying the scent of smoke from a faraway fire. 'Tis the season of All Hallow's Eve... Samhain... the Devil's Night... And so it is again the time of season for ANTiSEEN to rise once more and shake the earth with noise for the sake of noise - Destructo Rock...

It is a bit of tradition for the band to play on or around Halloween. After the success of our live internet show in June we felt it proper to try again. Halloween provided the perfect opportunity. Once we hit upon the idea things moved really fast and surprisingly easy. There was a lot of work to do, both in terms of music and presentation. We all rose to the task and it came off great. Here's how it went down:

When we first discussed doing a Halloween broadcast, I was keen on not repeating any of the songs played in our previous one. It had to be different. Jeff agreed and we simultaneously hit upon the idea to center our setlist on songs that reflected the darker corners of our catalog. We quickly came up with a strong set of deep cuts. Thematically if not expressly Halloween-ish songs. Most were songs we have not played live since I joined. It would take a coordinated effort since Malcolm lives Connecticut. We would need to eliminate anything problematic rather quickly , tricky business when we couldn't all play together. Also, right as we got down to work, Facebook announced new rules for live broadcasts on the platform. Would these new rules affect us? There was a lot to be done and a relatively short time to do it. 

Barry and I started practicing alone just to familiarize ourselves with the arrangements. It's an interesting task to go back and study the older material. Sometimes minor changes have been made to the arrangements and what Jeff or Barry might be used to playing live is different than what was recorded. The recordings are what Malcolm and I are learning from so you have to work towards a healthy middle ground. The trick is preserving the feel of a given song while making slight rearrangements to it. We found that our cover of Roky Erickson's "Bloody Hammer" had gone though a lot of changes and basically had to start from the ground up. Conversely, a song like "Slice You Open", although not a part of any set in nearly thirty years, fell together exactly as written. "I Wish I Had Killed You (When I Had The Chance)" was deceptively difficult and took a lot of work. The injection of a part from "The Devil Meets The Longhaired Weirdo" into the middle of "Walking Dead required a change of key. Little things you might not otherwise notice or consider. With practice it started to come together. 

Malcolm and I initially partnered via internet video, ensuring he was on the right path to where the rest of us were already travelling. It demonstrates a sizable dedication for him to commit to this band, and the work he puts into it is both impressive and inspiring. He does his homework so there wasn't much for he and I to dial in. I could tell he would be ready when he finally came down. Moreover, he and Jeff also took the necessary time reviewing the new Facebook rules and decided everything should be ok. 

Meanwhile Barry and I discussed the opening of the show. We had decided upon using the song "Death Train Coming" as the opener but I suggested we should try doing it a little different. Exactly how, I really didn't know. I just knew we needed a fresh approach to the old standard. It's a strong opening number, no question. But we've used it a lot and we didn't wanna repeat what we had already done. So we discussed using video to our advantage. Barry felt we should use a recording of a train approaching and that it would be cool if there was an existing video of an oncoming freight train rolling towards the camera eye. I suddenly remembered a movie I had enjoyed as a kid called "Something Wicked This Way Comes". It started with that very image. Suddenly we had it. It all came together so clearly and easily - Something Wicked This Way Comes

Barry worked to again coordinate all the necessary production details. He secured the same folks that assisted us last time, Wes Cobb and WestArt Video. They immediately put together a teaser video which we used on Facebook to promote the show. Barry also secured the services of sound engineer Dave Massi. Dave did an outstanding job on the previous effort so it only made sense to use him again.  Barry purchased a small light rig of his own and decided to use it this go-round. We also discussed adding a small amount of pyro this show. Things began to fall into place as we moved forward on piecing the elements together. 

A week before our scheduled show date Malcolm rolled into town. We began a very dedicated regiment of practicing; running the set a couple of times each day, going back over any weak or troublesome parts. We often practiced without Jeff as trio, sharpening ourselves without reliance on the vocal to guide us. It only made things stronger when Jeff did come in. I felt really confident and had more fun putting this show together than I did the previous one. Malcolm really locked in solidly with us. We invited Eddie Ford from Self-Made Monsters to play his Theremin on our version of the old Sonics tune "The Witch". We also decided to have him play on part of our version of Alice Cooper's "Sick Things" as well. He brought all his gear down with him to practice and it was great. All together the playing felt really powerful. 

One night after practice we sat talking about our random influences, both the common and uncommon. We all have shared touchstones that unite us, particularly stuff like Sex Pistols or early KISS. Malcolm likes a lot of esoteric and avant-rock stuff such as DEVO or the Residents that rears itself in some his angular bass lines. However there's also a healthy dose of Grand Funk's Mel Schacher in there, too. I'm an unabashed devotee at the Altar of the Holy Trinity of Johnny Ramone, Ron Asheton and Joe Young. Barry is rooted in the nailed-down-tight directness of Phil Rudd and Paul Cook. It makes for a pretty potent chemistry that gives our band continued life without merely retreading the tire. This line-up gels strong. 

A couple days before the show we have to arrange and dress the area where we will be performing. This is a task in and of itself. We rent a warehouse to rehearse in and have to drape out the walls. We also have to set up the stage lights. We place Barry's drums on a small riser which is flanked by our amps. It all fits snugly in a corner with just enough range for adequate camera placement. It of course helps a great deal that we have done this once before already. Last time there was a little more consideration (read: guesswork) on how to set up. This time we knew what we were wanting and how to go about capturing it. 

Finally the day of the show arrived. Everyone was busy preparing themselves for the work at hand. Videographer Wes Cobb was buried in his computer, working out whatever details he required. He employs his daughter Hannah to run the primary camera. It was important to block out the areas where the cameras would be. Unlike last time, we weren't using stationary cameras. Everything would be shot with hand-held cameras. We needed to make sure they would not interfere with each other or the band. Since we were shooting everything hand-held, we provided two cameramen of our own, Jason Griscom and Clay Moore. Jason should be familiar to longtime fans as the hapless interviewer on a lot of our promo videos. He's also responsible for the cult film "Come Get Some" that featured members of the band. Clay also worked on the film as well. He also provided the album cover artwork for the A-SEEN tribute album "Everybody Loves ANTiSEEN". Jason and Clay coordinate with Wes and Hannah making sure all the cameras are linked together. Wes then controls all the angles from his stationary position, switching from one camera perspective to another. Sounds simple enough but the reality it all takes a certain skill and a lot of talent. Fortunately for us these folks had plenty of both. 

We ran a soundcheck for Dave Massi to establish the audio levels for broadcast. The only drawback was we were working without a proper PA. We had Jeff set up for vocals but after that everything was mic'd for the audio feed. It proved to not be an issue, really. I could hear everything I needed and we had done our jobs. Personally I felt it was sounding better than the previous effort. We were solidly on point and ready. 

We were then given our cue to begin. We took our marks and then tore into the set. I was pacing myself initially. Last time I pushed too hard and found myself dehydrated and my hands cramped up. This time I measure my timing. Of course I caught myself concentrating too hard and made a minor flub, hitting a bum note. It knocked me back into place and I let go a little bit. Much as if performing to a live audience, it often times is better to run on instinct. 

The songs clip by at a very deliberate but brisk pace. About four songs in I'm in the zone. We blast through "Psycho Path" and I really tear into it. For a moment I feel as if I might be slightly out of tune. Luckily it occurs as we go into "Walking Dead" which gives me enough pause to check my tuning. Everything was fine and I let my Telecaster snarl into the big opening chords of the song. I wasn't able to get the feedback I wanted in the middle breakdown but it still droned ominously enough that I didn't really mind. 

We drill down into the old Roky Erickson tune "Bloody Hammer" and soon are into the final few songs. Here is when Eddie appears sporting garish face paint and dressed as a crazy witch. He gestures wildly at his Theremin, forcing it to belch forth all manners of intergalactic signals and frequencies from out of the ether. It sounds killer and he looks cool doing it. It's a fun twist to the proceedings. 

We grind out an especially powerful take of "Last Days On Earth" before reaching climax with our Halloween standard, "Haunted House". We blitz it down to its conclusion where, given a momentary pause, Clayton declares Halloween is never cancelled. Then the closing salvo chords as the jack-o-lanterns adorning the stage all explode in balls of fire and smoke. Jeff then smashes each one into pulp as we reprise the riff to "Bloody Hammer". It finally dissolves into a wall of white noise feedback and clouds of smoke. Happy Halloween, thank-you and goodnight! 

We scarcely have time to review the video afterwards. Again the response is overwhelmingly positive. We receive lots of texts and Facebook messages that we aren't able to respond to straight away. There is still plenty of work to be done. It would take several more hours of work to tear down all the gear and return things to as they were. It made for a long day but a good one. I suppose this may be our only viable alternative to live performances for the foreseeable future. If we can continue to rely on the generosity of out fanbase to help offset the production expenses then we will probably do at least one more somewhere down the line. But of course we hope to be back out on the road sooner rather than later, taking the noise to the people!

However for now our energies will return to another round of recording projects. The next up on our list is something that I don't wanna divulge yet. If all goes according to plan it will be really killer, I can promise you that. We're also already demoing out new songs that are the groundwork for our next full-length LP. And if that weren't enough the "Here To Ruin Your Groove" LP is getting the deluxe two-disc treatment that are in the finishing stages. So maybe in some ways 2020 has been a bust but we've stayed productive and 2021 should see a lot of action as the projects come to fruition. 
 
So stay tuned, stay safe, stay healthy and stay destructo....
  

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

DestructoVision....

Ok, so right out of the gate let me address our covid-19 situation: we were sidelined like everyone else for awhile.

There.

And then, to break the monotonous boredom that has proven to be a serious side-effect of covid-19... 

The clubs, bars and restaurants are all closed, nobody can go anywhere or do anything except spend far too much time on social media telling everyone else what to think and how... We decided to do something. And if you're gonna do something, do something worth doing. And if you're gonna do it, do it right... right??

Are you following? Huh? Are you??

We reconvened for our first practice amid the covid chaos and decided if we can't go to the people, then we should bring the people to us. And so it was the idea was hatched: we would broadcast a show from our state-of-the-art production and rehearsal facility LIVE on the internet. 

Barry, being a goddamn professional, went straight to work producing the event, addressing all the technical aspects required to put the show together. I mean, it sounds rather obvious and elementary; sound, lights, cameras, but it takes an involved coordination with an eye for detail. Barry is really great for that.

Meanwhile we had to decide what songs to play. Jeff wanted to go deep and pull out songs we haven't played in a long time, including songs I have not played since I joined. Some surprising titles emerged with the idea that we would narrow it down to ten songs we felt we played best. We knocked the dust off "Curses" and "Fight Like Apes", which we have played in the last few years but had shelved. Then came out "White Trash Bitch", which goes back to very near the beginning. And then "Mill Working Man", an early favorite of mine. Also "Twisted Brain", which I know we tried in practice a few times but don't think we ever actually took to stage. Jeff thought it would be fun if we included "Constant Nagging", probably the shortest song in the vast catalog of A-SEEN classics. In the end, however, we just decided to play them all.

Malcolm arrived a week before the scheduled broadcast. He had done his homework; even on our first pass the set fell together easily solid. We met almost every afternoon, fine-tuning the songs to ensure we were all on point. Practice is an interesting aspect of the process. Sometimes you play better and tighter in practice than in performance. The reason is due to the physicality of performing live, where the subtle artistry of musicianship has to yield to the primal fury of fucking shit up.

The day before the broadcast we had to reassemble our practice facility into a makeshift television studio. There were things to move and spaces to clear. We would need ample room for all the additional stuff. Barry wasted no time in setting up and arranging our gear. It was basically all set when I arrived. Dave Massi was also there setting up the sound equipment. Dave used to run sound at Tremont Music Hall and is a veteran of many ANTiSEEN shows. He knew what to do without any explanation or prompting. The lights came via a guy named Jason Duhigg. I think he was a tad bit disappointed when we told him we wanted to simply set the lights and leave them be. It was, however, important to make sure the lighting wouldn't interfere with the cameras and had to be adjusted accordingly.

We ran a few songs to acquaint ourselves with the surroundings. Everything sounded really good in the room. I didn't know what it might sound like once it was piped through the soundboard and across the internet, but I had faith in Dave's skill. My biggest concern was hearing Barry. His drums were elevated on a riser, which I always have trouble with. Maybe it's just me but they always seem to disappear when they're elevated. I mean, sure it looks impressive and all but I'd rather have them right there on the floor with us. I knew I'd  have to stay rooted in close to the riser and rely on visual cues.

The next afternoon we reconvened along with our ever-trusty and hardworking roadie, Brandon, and our longtime friend Jason Griscom, who we asked to MC the show. 

The video is provided by a guy named Wes Cobb. He arrived and we got busy setting up the camera positions and setting our marks. Wes' daughter assisted. She was sharp, quick-witted, and clearly knew what she was doing. I was a little curious what she would think once we got into the show. The owner of the building, Bill Vasil, also showed up with his family to watch the whole spectacleWe also invited photographer Chris Cook to document the set. Other than that, there is no audience. We had initially hoped we could have a limited amount of people come watch but the logistics prevented it. We received many requests and unfortunately had to turn them down. It was, however, good to know we had built anticipation for the broadcast.

We puzzled all the different elements together and ran a song to see what we had. It all looked and sounded great. We were ready.

Finally it was time. Griscom took his spot and made the introduction and I launched into the opening chords of "You're Gonna Tote an Ass Kicking". We've only played that a handful of times since I've joined. It's deceptively tricky and difficult to keep in check. I have to concentrate on staying on my marks and not getting too aggro. The audience are the cameras. I find it more challenging than I anticipated. The heat gives me trouble; my mouth drys out and I get a cramp like I'm running a marathon. I can't let it distract me. At one point Jeff douses himself with a water bottle and the floor becomes slick. This is a common hazard in our set, a wet stage can be as tricky as walking on ice. Sure enough, I nearly fall on my ass - that would've been a comical moment! Somehow I manage to stay afoot and plow along pretending nothing happened. Like Pollock said: deny the mistake

We blitz one song into the next. It's a constant barrage -  no stage patter, no water breaks, no fucking around. Facebook can be short attention span theater so we go at it with a pointed directness. Jeff really plays to the cameras, and its great. We play "Fight Like Apes", another rarity, and Jeff adorns himself with a replica of a Planet Of The Apes helmet, reflecting the songs subject matter. Another song or two later he's bleeding profusely. I barely notice, I'm too involved with hitting my marks and keeping my cues from Barry. We drill out the set which reaches the climatic conclusion of "Fuck All Y'all" and the exploding, fiery death of another washboard. Thank you, Facebook, and goodnight.

After the broadcast we don't have time to really look at the final product. We still have to tear everything down. The camera girl comes up to me and says she has never seen that much blood at a concert before. I'm not sure if that was meant as a compliment or not. After we get everything torn down and packed we have a short photo session with Chris Cook. 

A quick glance at the video shows the audience response as strongly positive. We received a lot of donations that helped offset the production costs. The people that provided their time and services deservedly earned their compensation, and our fanbase helped make this happen, so THANK YOU. It has been a success, and we are really grateful to have such a dedicated fanbase. 

While Malcolm was in town we took advantage of the time to also work on other stuff. We've had a long standing commitment to the band Before I Hang for a split 7" release. After considering several ideas we finally decided to revisit another song from Jeff's roots called "Last Hymn". Written and recorded in the late 70's by an obscure Texas punk band called The Hates, the song is about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple cult. Coincidently, Malcolm has recordings of ol' Double J in full flight, including the dismal final moments of the cult. Of course, not being able to pass on a clear opportunity we decided to embellish our recording with the recordings of Jones while adding additional original music in what is shaping up to be a multi-part Destructo Rock opera. Eat your heart out, Pete Townshend! In some ways it's a departure from our usual sturm and drang, but then again, its totally our usual sturm and drang. I mean, it ain't exactly art-rock or whatever, but its fun to subvert expectations every now and again. I think people will dig the results.

We are also very excited about the release of our collaboration with Poison Idea's Jerry A. It's a bruising take on the song "Testify", originally recorded by professional wrestler Beautiful Beauregarde in 1971. The original featured a 17 year old Greg Sage, later of the seminal Northwestern punk band The Wipers. Sage passed it along to the late Phil Irwin of Rancid Vat, who recorded a version of the tune under Sage's production. This is where I first heard the song about thirty years ago. It all ties together, Phil was friends with both ANTiSEEN and Poison Idea so it seemed a fitting tribute. We also enlisted our pal Steve Wensil, formerly of the Dead Kings, to lay down some lead guitar and it turned out great. In fact, its available NOW, so do what you gotta do!

If that wasn't enough, Jeff has also been hard at work on another reissue. I don't wanna reveal the details on that yet because, well, I don't know the details. I do know it involves what is probably the most popular album ANTiSEEN ever released. Hows that for an obvious hint? At any rate, get excited because its worth getting excited about.

Oh and one last thing - we are scheduled to return to the Muddy Roots Festival this year! As of this writing, it's all still happening!! I don't know the exact details yet but I'm sure you can collect updates and info via our respective Facebook pages. So as always, plan accordingly!!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Just Who The Hell Do I Think I Am ?? (Part Two)...

Welcome back. Hopefully y'all dug the last installment. If not, maybe you'll like this one better. I'll try to make this one a wee bit shorter. I think I can skip a lot of uncessary exposition and cut to chase.

So, picking up the thread, lessee... where was I...? 

I had a circle of friends in high school but I didn't share much in common with any of them. I was developing my own thang. Individualism and personal identity was more important than being part of the gang. Ironically this sorta made me the defacto leader of a circle of kids that also fell outside the lines of social cliques. It was like something out of a John Hughes movie; there was the Football Jock, the Black Guy, the Hippy Chick, the Preppie Kid, the Goth Girl, the Metalhead, etc... They call it diversity now but back then we were just nerds. The only thing we really had in common was that we didn't really fit in with any other clique. One kid was the Punk Rock Guy. He was well over 6' tall and about 230lbs. He also sported a cherry red mohawk, a pretty radical thing in our neck of the woods back then. Because of his size, nobody dared hassle him. This was the guy who turned me on to ANTiSEEN. 

Discovering ANTiSEEN was, for me, like a caveman discovering fire. I became so absorbed in my own fascination with them that everything else sort of lost focus. I hated most all mainstream music. It was the 80s afterall. In my ears ANTiSEEN took everything that made rock and roll great and reduced it down to the primal immediate urgency. It went straight for the jugular and didn't let go. It was uncomfortable and unrelenting. Most of all, it was the blasting cap that sent me off into my own orbit. 

It was tail end of my high school years and I was pretty well washed up, anyway. I had failed a couple of grades and somehow wound up taking 10th, 11th and 12th grade classes simultaneously. It was becoming clear that I would never catch up. I had a meeting with a guidance counselor and was told that at the end of the year they wouldn't issue a diploma to me. Instead I would receive a certificate of attendance that would basically complete my schooling. If I wanted to pursue any educational opportunities after that, I'd have to obtain a GED. I considered the options (or lack thereof) and decided not to waste my time any further. I dropped out. 

I still remember walking out of school and  across the parking lot that day. It was raining and I really wasn't sure where my life was headed. I can't say I really cared, either. My folks were disappointed, obviously. It's weird - I wasn't a bad kid. I was just lazy and disinterested in... um... everything. I acquiesced to the parental demands of church three times weekly in addition to a portion of my paycheck in exchange for the same bedroom I grew up in. I didn't mind paying rent. I just figured if I were to pay rent then I should be allowed to come and go as I damned well pleased. Instead I was forced to abide by rules not far removed from a half-way house for work release prisoners. 

Eventually I was told to get out. I was on my own and left to my own limited devices. I didnt realize it at the time but I had turned a corner, a hard left turn into a world that I was not properly prepared to endure. My naive optimism shone like a bright beacon calling forth every dark character of the Id to come and gleefully attempt to extinguish. My mother had done a championship job of tangling me on her proverbial apron strings. Predictably, my efforts to stand on my own, two-fisted and ready to take on the world failed miserably. Within a few short months I was homeless, broke and desperate. I came back to my parents with my tail tucked tightly between my legs. 

Still, I managed to attend ANTiSEEN shows as frequently as possible. I went to every Charlotte show and soon was travelling to outlying towns in the region whenever they played. I remember hitching a ride up to a small town up in the mountains to see a gig and landed in some punk rock flophouse after the show. I had sex while about eight or ten kids were passed out all around me - or maybe they were quietly enjoying the show. I didn't know and I didn't care. 

My genral attitude turned sour pretty fast. I was very distrustful of what anyone had going on at any given moment. It was an ugly attitude and I carried it around for a long, long time. I reflected a lot of negativity towards people that really didn't deserve it. Mostly towards other bands. Hypocritically I couldn't disassociate a person from their band yet expected them to do it for me. I realize now it was my own self loathing manifested in an unhealthy and off-putting way. It was totally catch-22; I wanted to be simultaneously loved and hated. I rationalized this by telling myself that people can hate me but they damn well would respect me. Prickish, if not an out-and-out prick.

For better or worse, everything I was doing revolved around seeing the band. I was slowly becoming friends with them. Joe Young worked at a local record store, a tiny storefront in a little strip of shops. It was called Repo Records. It sorta became ANTiSEEN HQ; a place to find it/hear it/ learn it first. I spent most of my free time there. Eventually the store would move to it's more widely remembered larger location down the street, but the vibe basically remained the same. If anything was happening, you'd hear about first at Repo. 

I recognized ANTiSEEN were important. They were not the stereotypical hardcore punk band. They operated way outside the lines and did their own thing. For whatever I liked about punk - and I liked it a lot - I started seeing that there were obvious codified standards in rigid force. It was almost as if there is some playbook of standardized rules everything was set to, even if broken down into factional order. I fully understood the code, I just didn't wanna abide by it. And with ANTiSEEN,  I felt not only encouraged but justified as well. 

Eventually I started riding with them to shows. Suddenly I had an "inside" view of how the band operated. I mean, as a fan you pay your admission, hang out and see the show. You don't really think about what it takes for the band to get it to the stage.  Never mind the hours of reheasals, writng and playing the same songs over and over, but also the breakdowns, flat tires, or even running out of gas (which happened more than once).  This was stuff that I never considered prior. But I don't remember them ever missing a shot. Somehow they always managed to pull it together and pull it off. I recognized that they shared the common bond of making the whole thing work. 

Occasionally we would roll into a town and be met at the door of a club by some guy reading us the riot act before we even unloaded. Their reputation preceded them, even then. What these clubs didn't understand was that amid the chaos, volume and bloodshed was still a dedicated, hardworking professional band. Nobody was in this to unnecessarily burn bridges. In turn, some long standing alliances and friendships were established along the way, if occasionally  a few enemies, too. 

I'm glad I saw that shit back then. It was an eye-opening education that, unbeknownst at the time, was preparing me for the future. I learned a lot, even if it involved sticking my foot in my mouth or showing my ass occasionally. And they were cool enough not to kick my ass whenever I showed it.

There were a couple of years in the late 90s where I kinda put myself outside of the circle of the band. It was a lot of ego-driven nonsense. I had made some poor choices and wasn't able to reconcile different aspects of my life. I needed to get my shitty attitude in check and grow the hell up a little bit. It was a less than stellar display. 

When I came back around it didn't take long to fall back in with everyone. Before I knew it I was back on the road lugging equipment and hawking merch. I suppose it was sorta paying dues but I never looked at it that way. I just was eager to help. It wasn't always fun but nothing worth doing is. Sometimes you gotta bite your lip and keep soldiering forward. 

And in this I learned the important truth that respect cannot be demanded. It can only be earned.

A cool side benefit was meeting a cast of interesting and memorable characters along the way. It was only through the band I would ever have had the opportunity to meet some of my best friends, nevermind the "big name" folks I also enjoyed getting to meet. I mean, sure, it's really cool I got to meet GG, Tesco or Hank III but it's more cool I got to meet Dave Wynkoop, Jeff Williams or Eddie Ford - people whose names you might not recognize but are as important to me as family. And it was only because of the band I ever got to know them. 

As corny as it might sound, discovering the band at that time in my life really saved it in a sense. Outside of my children, I really can't think of a more positive and inspiring thing to have ever happened to me. To find myself as a member now feels as natural as it does unbelievable. Its a weird juxtaposition.  

Of course it's still occasionally a volatile combustion. The funny thing is I've been accused of "sucking up" and called a sycophant. But we all lock horns and knock heads occasionally. I'm not a little kid anymore. I have my own perspectives and ideas. I didn't kiss ass to get here. 

Conversely  I also know there were some serious doubts when I joined that we could even pull this off. I'd say that now, more than five years as a member, we have successfully crushed those doubts. Whatever the mix, it works
It's as simple as that. 
It's as complicated as that. 

Personally, I'm proud of what we've accomplished. And I'm grateful to have had the opportunities to do the things I've done. I like to joke of being the middle-aged novice. I still get nervous before every show. I enjoy seeing the commitment of the other guys, even after all these years. Nobody takes it for granted or holds unrealistic expectations. It's not an ego-trip or ruse to make easy money (as of it were ever easy). This is our outlet of self-expression and release. I can't rightly speak for the others but although hardly young men anymore, I think we all hold a little shred of latent adolescent frustration locked up inside that we still feed off of.
I suppose it could be labeled immaturity but fuck it, it keeps the spirit fresh. Even if it were to end, the spirit will still be there. I suspect it'll be there on our respective deathbeds, and yet the spirit will continue in the body of work left behind.

It's more than music. It's a way of life...


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Just Who The Hell Do I Think I Am...???

Well, since it looks like we are all kinda stalled-out at present, I figured I might dig into my shallow self-indulgences and write about me. Not so much because I'm a narcissist (I hope), but because... well, because. There ain't shit else to write about. Anyways, I've been keeping this blog for nearly six years now. Actually its been more like eight - I had a a different version of this blog before I changed the name and content to reflect what I now do in the band. And as I've stated in this blog before, the opinions I express here are my own; they don't necessarily reflect the opinions of the other guys. We're all very different individuals. As such, it occurred to me that although I have occasionally written about certain events from my past, I've never really opened up too much about who I am or where I come from. So I figure maybe I could spend a little time writing about myself from a slightly different angle. I don't blame you if you find this sort of thing boring. If you've only signed on to check out band stuff you might wanna take a pass on this. Otherwise... 

Just who the hell do I think I am???

Although originally from Virginia, I've lived here in the Charlotte area for most of my life and feel fairly well rooted in this city. However somewhat paradoxically, I've never really felt any connection to the state of North Carolina. Which is to say I feel more like a Charlottean than a Carolinian. And to confuse things more, I still feel more like a Virginian than a Charlottean or Carolinian. And although that I haven't lived there for over 35 years and have severed nearly all my familial ties, Virginia somehow remains my spiritual home and grounding point.

I was born on September 21, 1971 in Roanoke, Virginia. Roanoke is a weird place, culturally. Buried in the Shenandoah Valley of southwestern Virginia, it was the home for the Norfolk & Western Railway locomotive production shops. At it's peak, the Roanoke Shops employed more than 6000 workers, many of whom were transplanted Northerners. The Northern influence leaves a seedy urban quality that sorta permeates and penetrates the otherwise woodsy charm of the area. What remains is this weird hybrid of Southern hick and Northern blue-collar sensibilities in a populace that isn't overtly friendly.

When I was born my parents lived in a little house in the neighboring town of Vinton, a garden variety anonymous Anytown, USA. In the center of town is a large building called the War Memorial. It's an event center catering to weddings and banquets that has been in operation since 1947. My Grandmother Ward operated the place for about thirty years. She had a small apartment upstairs. I remember spending time there when I was very young. She would sometimes usher me through the labyrinth of ballrooms and kitchens, introducing me to the staff of old African American ladies. They would all dote on me, calling me "Mister Russ" and give me cookies. Looking back I suspect this kindness was not without a certain amount of contempt, given the circumstances. I of course was too young to know any better. These were just sweet ladies giving me cookies - what's not to like?

My Pop was a tool & die maker and machinist. Mom was a school teacher. I have no idea how they ever got involved as they are so completely different. Pop is very much a blue-collar sort; country music, cowboy boots and beer. To give you an idea of the sort of person my father is I'll tell a quick story: He once bought an old pick-up truck, an old rusty junker with the big bubble wheel wells. One night some men from the neighborhood association knocked on the door. They told him the truck was "an eyesore to the community" and insisted it be painted. Pop was pissed off, but didn't show it. Instead he politely assured them he would indeed paint the truck. The following weekend he went to the hardware store and bought a gallon of red paint, a gallon of white paint, a gallon of blue paint and some brushes. He came home and went to work painting that truck red, white and blue. Nobody said a word. He later sold it to this biker dude named Henry who drove it for years. It was always a treat to spy it out and about from time to time.

Pop was also into motorcycles. And I don't mean Harley-Davidson. He hated Harleys. Pop was a devoted acolyte of Indian Motorcycles. He had a 1951 Indian Roadmaster Chief. This bike was sweet. However Indians were particular in that they required special tools which weren't commercially available. Being a machinist and tool and die maker, he made  his own set of replica tools. For years he would get random phone calls from strangers asking if he could service their bikes. He'd get directions to wherever they were, grab his tool box, hop into his truck and away he'd go.

In the basement he had a make-shift shop for servicing bikes. When I was about two I wandered down when nobody was looking. There was a bike that Pop had been working on. It was situated on some sawhorses that served as a workbench. I tried to climb up on it. Instead I pulled the motorcycle over on top of me. Part of it bashed my skull open. My mother found me and had one of those moments of superhuman strength, lobbing the cycle over a few feet without effort. Obviously I don't remember it but I very nearly died. Unfortunately it left me with a fairly grotesque indention and scar on my head. So if you've ever noticed it in pictures or when we play and wondered "what the hell is wrong with that guy's head??", well, now you know.


Mom is more, I dunno... proper. She was a preachers kid and grew up in the church. This means I had to grow up in church, too. I mean Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. It was hellish. The irony was that Pop hated churches. He rightly saw them as little more than tax-exempt commercial enterprises selling a false sense of righteousness to dim witted believers. He'd grudgingly attend to placate her. I think that was the primary wedge in their relationship. It's probably the primary wedge in everything she ever attempted. Mom was actually very creative and talented, but she suppressed it with her religious dogma.

Eventually my parents had a house built in a development that sprawled across the side of a mountain over in the next county. For no readily apparent reason the neighborhood was called 'Rainbow Forest'. Two houses over and around the bend lived a kid named Eric. Although almost a full two years older, he became my best friend and lifelong pal. We lived at the top of the development, which was somewhat secluded away from the more densely populated area below. Since we were basically sequestered off from the neighborhood kids, we developed our own unique perspectives of what we thought was and wasn't cool. It left us sort of alienated from the rest of the kids we went to school with but I think we both grew up to be pretty unique. We still remain friends to this day.

I have an older brother. We have never got along. He was the sort that couldn't wait to grow up and I was the sort that never wanted to. It was like he was 8yrs old one year, 12 the next and well into middle age by the time he was 14. To him I was forever the stupid little kid, the annoying baby brother. Even as we grew older he kept me at a distance. Although he was never shy to pass his stern, pious judgement on my mistakes, embracing my achievements was not something that interested him. Sometimes I notice the interaction and close relationships of siblings and find myself envying them. It's just something I never had the opportunity to enjoy.

We were sort of a musical family. My mother was perhaps the most talented; she sang, played piano, flute and clarinet. My father was an excellent singer as well and spent several years as a member of the local SPEBSQSA leading his own barbershop quartet. He also conducted our church youth choir for a spell. My brother was a natural born drummer and demonstrated such advanced skill he was recruited into the high school marching band while still in 7th grade. He also took up guitar, mastering the fluidity of the neo-classical style made popular by his hero, Randy Rhodes.

And then there was me.

Although my parents insisted I also had a penchant for singing, I was far too shy to ever sing in front of people. I had attempted trumpet in sixth grade. As I remember it, I wanted to play saxophone but somehow got talked out of it. Mom took me to a music shop and the guy there set up a trumpet for me, explaining the technique to properly blow into the instrument. Somewhat unsure, I held the trumpet to my my lips and blasted a very fine, long droning note, strong and true. It did not waver or crack. The clerk raised his eyebrows and looked over at my mother with a nod and wry smile. We left the shop with that trumpet safely encased under my arm.

Over the next several weeks I made effort to repeat the music shop experience. However the strong droning note never materialized again. It had been supplanted by an array of goose honks, strangled snorts and flatulence. The music instructor at school once singled me out in front of the class. I got so flustered I couldn't even produce a noise. I looked at the sheet music, unable to decipher any of it and then looked back towards the other kids who had diligently practiced and performed seemingly without effort or obstacle. I shrugged my shoulders and thought "fuck this" and quit.

Around the same time the paradigms of social status began to clearly come into focus.  I was always an awkward kid. I couldn't quite keep up with the cooler athletic types, so I hung out with a couple of other "poor" kids. There was Kirk, Tracey, Carl and Gary. We were all products of blue-collar working class stock; latch-key kids from broken homes, dressed in outdated hand-me-downs. We made easy targets for the "cool" kids; our arch-enemies: Scott, Brian, Dan and Neal. These were kids from affluent middle-class homes. Athletic, good looking, sharply dressed and popular.

One day after lunch on the playground they moved in on Kirk like a pack of wolves, pulling his pants down in full view of everyone, humiliating him. We felt kinda helpless. Kirk's older brother was already in junior high, so he wasn't around to see what happened. But when he found out he came down to our school and found those kids, beating them up in front of everyone, teachers and faculty included. Of course he got suspended but the point was made.

The battle lines were being drawn.

Things were briefly quiet but for some reason Neal took a bead on me. Neal was like the adopted runt of the cool kids, a little smaller, less athletically gifted. He also wore these large framed glasses that seemed to swallow his face. He seemed as awkward and inept as us nerds but he at least had red tag Levis and Puma sneakers. These were essential items of cool, so I guess that was enough for his acceptance.

One day after a soccer match we lined up for the obligatory 'good game' handshake. Neal was an the opposing team. As he came by to shake hands, he grabbed my arm and threw me to the ground. I sat there like an idiot wondering why the hell did he do that? My brother was also in junior high, but unlike my friend Kirk, he had no interest in ever looking out for me. I was on my own.

The next morning I made a very pointed and direct effort to lip off to Neal. I don't remember what I said, but I'm sure it was questioning what his problem was and warning him not to try anything like that ever again. He made a little half-smile and sneered back at me "whattaya gonna do about, faggot?"

That's when I punched him. Again and again. Over and over. Only I wasn't hitting him in the face. He had those large frame glasses and I knew that if I broke them I'd be responsible. I didn't want my mom to have to pay for some kids glasses when we barely could afford groceries. So I was hitting him with rapid repeating punches - to the back of the head.

Strangely, I don't remember him mounting any sort of defense. He just sorta stood there while I bopped away on the back of his head. Somebody finally grabbed me and pulled me into the hall and I could hear him crying and... screaming?  No, he was howling. Long agonizing howls, like some sort of wounded animal.

I looked up the hallway and every teacher had come out of their room to see what the howling was. That's when it occurred to me that I was in trouble. Oddly, I remember not feeling very good about what had just happened. Yes, I won but I didn't feel victorious or special. The whole thing was just stupid. Fighting was stupid, a waste of energy and time.

Of course it didn't prevent me from ever fighting again....

One day as I was walking up the aisle to exit the bus, a kid threw a wadded up piece of paper at me. It missed but I turned around in time to see him wadding another. I looked at him coolly and said, daringly, "do it." He reared back but before he could launch I was on him. I grabbed him in a headlock and started punching him in the face. The bus driver screamed for me to stop and for some reason I did. We stood there huffing and red faced, staring at each other in silence. No one else on the bus said a word. Finally I turned and walked off. After that everyone left me alone. It didn't garner me any new friends but the way I figured it, I didn't wanna know those clowns no how.

And that has sorta been my attitude ever since.

My parents inevitably wound up divorced. Frankly, I'm glad they did. I can't imagine growing up under the constant stress. They each got remarried within weeks of each other. Their new respective mates were much better suited for them. My brother went to live with Pop and our new step-mother. I stayed with Mom and our new step-father. I don't remember being given a choice, and to think of it now, I'm sure my brother wasn't given the choice either. He just decided on his own what he wanted to do and it seemingly went unchallenged.

Straight away, my brother  got caught up in an affair with a woman that lived in the apartment below Pop. She was twice his age and her boyfriend was a biker. When the biker found out about the affair, he swore revenge. So my brother figured he better get the first shot and got somehow a gun. Of course he got caught. Somebody ratted him out at school. Having a gun at school was still a big deal in our little neck of the woods back in the early Eighties. Anyway, he wound up copping a deal that bounced him from the Job Corps to the Navy before being dishonorably discharged for some stupid reason or another.

Meanwhile I was uprooted and moved to Chesapeake, Virginia. Two years later we moved again, finally to Charlotte. It was hard for me. I had a pretty low self-esteem and made an easy target for bullies. I absorbed a lot of stuff I knew I shouldn't but felt outnumbered. I fell outside the clearly defined lines of clique-dom. I liked heavy rock but I wasn't a pothead or hood. I hated sports. I wasn't a good student so I wasn't the stereotypical "nerd". I just sorta shoe stringed my ideas together in what I thought was cool. Perhaps it made me unique, but it didn't make me cool.

My mom and stepfather were practicing some sort of twisted old-school "hard love" methodology that only reinforced the deep seeded sense of self worthlessness. I believe to this day my mother does not understand the consequences of her dogmatic adherence to a religion that has brought our family nothing but pain, dissension and separation. I know for many religion has provided some sense of purpose, direction and meaning to their lives. I almost envy it. I cannot share in the faith. I require sound, logical explanations and a reasoned approach to which explanations aren't available. "God's will" doesn't cut it. My mom would approach my problems with the question "well, did you pray about it?"

Jesus Christ.

If there is one good thing to be said of it, they instilled in me a deep sense of skepticism towards aggrandizement. Religion, politics, art... any manner of hype. Sure, I get it wrong a lot but I've never settled or rested. Somewhere amid the chaos and confusion of good intentions - where diversity collides with unity and everyone trips over themselves in effort not to offend anyone else - I'm standing off the sidelines, shaking my head and chuckling with disgust. I never wanted to be of the world, no matter how deeply I waded in it.

I've justified this contempt as being rooted in the desire for others to have better than they allow for themselves.

My family has long since become estranged from one another. I no longer speak to any of my family. It's been about six years since I last spoke to my mother. It's been nearly eight years since I last spoke to my Pop. And it's been 18 years since I've spoken to my brother. Both my step-parents have passed. So it's weird, but I'm not really too sad about it. It's just another anonymous dysfunctional American family.

So that's a little bit of the so-called "deep background".  Next time I'll get more into the meat of what y'all most wanna hear about - ANTiSEEN. I'm gonna have to really give it a lot of thought, its been thirty years since I first heard them. I've managed to pick up a few stories along the way, hopefully they'll be worth reading.

Until then, stay healthy and sane.