Monday, July 15, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR026- LIKE WOLVES, s/t LP

Like Wolves were a Rochester band that were literally the next wave of kids to come up from a very crusty punk scene, and become a group that was still very punk at their heart, but took some cues from some other sources that made their sound something that I was very interested in.
I had met their singer, Ben, a number of times because I was frequently in Rochester for shows (it was only an hour away) and he was a very social person.  I wasn’t so sure if I liked Ben though.  He was this feral-looking dude who spent most shows sans shirt and getting incredibly rowdy like ALL the time.  His band Destrux played often and I’m quite sure at least one of my bands shared a bill or two with them, and I think I wasn’t really into them.  Whatever it was I felt like I had some weird, uninformed bias towards him.  There was no good reason.  Later on, I definitely changed my tune because he was an incredibly sweet fellow.
Their drummer, Max, had been the roadie for Achilles since basically the beginning of the band so I had a bit of familiarity with him.  But I wasn’t sure about the rest of the members or what their deal was.
So when Like Wolves began and friends started telling me about them I felt it was worth checking them out.  They played pretty frequently, and often with bands that I really liked.  I could tell immediately that they took a lot of cues from the early 2000’s Louisville scene- Coliseum, and especially Lords- which sort of made sense because a lot of Hex Records bands in the region took cues from those groups as well and those bands played around here a lot.  It was natural that sound rubbed off on younger bands in the area.  But early on I felt as if Like Wolves didn’t have a set direction and things sounded a little too messy for my ears.  I couldn’t quite grasp what they were going for, even though I knew where the influences were coming from.  They definitely had a shit ton of energy, which was good, but I couldn’t pick up what they were laying down.  Still, they formed friendships with Achilles and played together.  They also formed a kinship with Oak and Bone, whom I had released a record for and was preparing to do a full length for as well and they became brother bands, in a sense.  Soul Control took Like Wolves under their wing too, and took them all over the country on tour.  The Like Wolves guys hit me up about putting out a record for them, but I was hesitant.  I knew they worked hard, and they were a great live group.  But the music was still not quite connecting with me. 
By this point the band had a couple seven inches out and were beginning to come into their own.  Not long after Like Wolves did a split with Oak and Bone on a local label, which I helped put some artwork together for (their guitarist Adam handling the bulk of it) and it was those couple songs they had on there where it finally clicked with me.  They were incredibly strong and saw the band going in a more streamlined direction that made way more sense to me.  They asked again about releasing a record with me and I agreed at that point.
That Winter Like Wolves recorded their self-titled full length, their only LP, at Moresound in Syracuse with local sound guru Jocko.  To go with some of their Lords-esque Louisville-tinged punk/hardcore they added a bunch of Hot Snakes-type garage-y riffs and a dash of At the Drive-In styled post-hardcore.  It worked out really great and I felt the band came out of there with an excellent-sounding, well-rounded, solid album.  I was happy to put it out and could see the band really doing well off of the record.
They had some big plans of their own- to once again hit the road and tour the country.  However, not too long after the record came out some members of the band seemed to have had a change of heart and didn’t want to pursue the band as strongly as others.  They played around here and there on the record, but then sort of fizzled out, and that was essentially the end of Like Wolves.  A few years passed and they ended up playing shows every now and again.  In the meantime, most of them continue to play in the band Coming Down, which has a somewhat similar feel.  To get the whole story on the band, and the making of their self-titled record, I caught up with guitarist and all around great guy Phil Speed (that’s his real name) to discuss all things Like Wolves.


Talk a bit about growing up in the Rochester scene, how you got into punk, and what that time was like for you.

Oh man.  Well, I pretty much got into punk music because of Ben, the singer of Like Wolves.  I’ve known Ben, and his brother, since I was in kindergarten.  I hung out with him when I was younger, we lost touch for a little bit, and then when I started high school I caught back up with him and we were in the high school radio station together and he just showed me all these bands.  I was into heavy metal, like the big four metal bands, and I sort of stuck with that.  But he showed me stuff like NOFX, and Rancid, and Bad Religion, and all of that.  It kind of took off from there.  That was my intro to that.  My first band was with Ben and Jon Garwood, who was in Like Wolves originally.  That was my first band called The Hooligans.

(laughs) I can’t say I ever remember hearing about that one.

We actually played a show with xWitnessx one time, before any of us knew Rory (Van Grol, singer for xWitnessx, as well as Achilles, Soul Control, How We Are, and Coming Down).  We didn’t like each other.  We were a bunch of little assholes and wanted to fuck around.

So you were, in essence, hooligans.

Yeah, literally, little hooligans who didn’t drink, didn’t do anything bad, except probably vandalize things. (laughs)



How did Like Wolves form?

So Adam, the other guitar player of Like Wolves, and Jon (Garwood) were both in Destrux with Ben.  And when that band fizzled out me, Adam, and Jon Garwood, and the drummer of Destrux started a band called Whom They Destroy.  And that had the singer of Rational Animals in it.  We played around for about a year.  And then that fizzled out.  So then me, Adam, and Jon were like, ‘we don’t want to stop doing this, we want to keep playing together’.  So that’s when we found Max (Quatrocci, drummer), who was referred to us by Rory.  He was like, ‘I know a drummer, you should meet up with him’.  So we just jammed with him a couple times and it worked out.  We actually tried out singers too, which I had never done in another band.  We tried out this guy that Max knew, and then we tried out this guy Derek, and then we just thought that we ought to try out Ben, and that was it.  He was the guy. 
I’m also trying to think of how long Jon stayed in the band before we got Trevor (Amesmith, bassist on the LP).  I think it was two years.

Jon was on those first two seven inches.

Yeah, you’re right.  The split with Oak and Bone I believe Jon played on it, but Trevor’s name is on it.  We still make fun of Jon for that.

Ben was always a pretty wild frontman.  What’s one of the best Ben Strux stories you can remember?

The best one that I think anyone that knows him would agree is the best one was one time when Destrux played a show at X-Dreams Skate Park.  There was a section of the skate park that didn’t have a ceiling, not like the part where the shows were at.  So he climbed into that, and climbed through the scaffolding, and came through the ceiling where the show was, completely naked, as the band was starting (laughs).  He scared the shit out of everybody there, the ceiling tiles just falling down all over, and he just came right there.  That’s kind of him in a nutshell anyway, just surprising everyone.  He used to get naked a lot.  Not anymore.  He retired that.

That was feral Ben.  He dialed it back just a bit when Like Wolves started.  He got a haircut and started wearing a shirt.

He did.  There was a while where he didn’t like talking about naked Destrux Ben.  He’s over it now.  He will talk about it now.

But I think having him was essential.

Oh, he was essential in so many ways.  The people he knew, the networking, and dealing with the dumb stuff.  He and I were kind of the business-y guys in the band.  Adam was the creative side and helped with getting tours booked.  Everyone played their little part.

What was the early intent of the band, your influences, and who did the majority of the songwriting at the beginning?

I know that when we started jamming with Max we pretty much wanted to sound like Coliseum.  I wanted to basically just take “Goddamage” and cover it.  I wanted to play that kind of music every second.  I know Adam was extremely influenced by Black Cross, Hot Snakes, and Drive Like Jehu.  And Adam is the person who kind of turned me on to those bands.  Those are some of my favorite bands now.  So we always wanted to take bands that we were playing with, like Polar Bear Club and Election Day, and what they were doing, but being a little more edgy.  A little weirder.  But Adam was mostly the creative force with all of that.  He would come to practice with the riffs and we kind of threw it together from there.  Garwood always had good ideas, and Max kind of kept us within the  hardcore realm.  If we had a different drummer than Max I think we would have been a totally different band, and not in a good way.

The lineup changed a bit from the beginning of the band, up until the release of the LP.  Take me through that and how that affected the sound of the group.

Jon moved to Baltimore and then we thought about it and Trevor was really the only option at the time.  But he was the best option.  Besides Max we had all known each other for so long.  Trevor and I grew up on the same street.  And we were right down the street from Ben.  So we sort of wanted to keep that vibe going- that super good friends vibe, that is.
As far as the sound of the band, I think when Trevor joined up we had just put out the split with Oak and Bone.  The two songs from that split we from the recording we did for “Paths”, our second seven inch.  So we had just started writing our full length, which took us forever.  We had been playing songs off the LP for almost a year before we recorded any of them.  But Trevor filled in all the space.  He didn’t do anything better, or different, than Jon.  But he kind of just added an element to the band that I didn’t realize.  Like, if I grab a bass and try to play the parts that Trevor played on that record I can’t do it.  I literally have no idea what he played.  But the bass on that record is my favorite part of it.  And Max is so in the pocket on that record too.

It seemed that the biggest bonds you all formed with other bands were with Soul Control and Oak and Bone, and you all played together a lot.  How did that affect you all as a band, and did you learn anything from them?

Oh for sure.  To this day those are some of my favorite shows I’ve played, with both those bands.  I just call them friendship shows.  That’s especially what ended up happening with all those guys from Oak and Bone.  When I think of a band that we got super tight with it’s them.  We didn’t know any of them originally, but we just ended up being on a lot of the same shows together.  So we got to know them that way.  And then I ended up dating a girl from Syracuse, and she was friends with all of them, so I ended up hanging out with those guys a lot.  A lot.  We always had a good time playing with them.  If we ever played out of town we liked to play with them.
When I think of my favorite times with this band I often think of playing with Soul Control and Oak and Bone.
As far as what I learned… I think with the guys in Soul Control they were a little older and I thought those guys were so down to earth.  At the time I was so impressed that they were on Bridge 9 Records and they’re asking us to go on tour with them.  It was a huge deal to me.  I thought that they could have anyone playing with them, or opening for them, and they asked us to do it.  I thought they had great attitudes.  They never took themselves too seriously.  They were just so fun.
Honestly, if I learned anything from them it was to have as much fun as possible.  I mean, I’m pretty good at that, and the rest of the band was pretty good at that, but they just took it to another level.  For sure.

And they toured so hard for awhile.  Do you think you all would have toured as much as you did, or at all, if it weren’t for them?

I think we would have tried.  But I don’t think we would have had as good of a time.  The first couple tours we did were sort of self-booked.  And then the one we did with Soul Control out to Seattle for Rain Fest was pretty much all them.  And those shows were mostly pretty amazing.  They were the reason we got to play Rain Fest.   But yeah, I think we would still have toured, but it probably wouldn’t have been as ‘successful’ had we not gone with them.

When it came time to record the album you had changed your sound a bit and decided to go with Moresound to record in.  What was going on with the band at that time and how did you all come to some of those decisions for the direction of the band?

It was definitely very natural in the way that we took the new songs.  There’s four of them that we wrote in about a month and a half, and those are the last songs we wrote before recording.  But if I were to take the order of the songs on the LP and find the heaviest song, that would have probably been the first song we wrote for the record, and then “Obsolete Vernacular” would have been the last one we wrote for the LP.  It was a lot slower, and rhythmic, and it felt right.  Again, that was mostly Adam taking the reins on things.  I tend to write things very simple and straightforward, but Adam likes to take things in a little more math-y direction.
I think we spent four days recording, which is the most time I’ve ever spent recording.  I thought you were insanely generous with how much time we had.  Usually I’m like, ‘alright, get in, get out, record your six songs and get out of here!’  I’ve never been in a situation like that, musically, where I could go in and perfect things and add parts here and there.
Recording the LP over at Moresound Studio


I also think Jocko is very generous with his time as well.

Oh yeah.  And he was stoked on it!  He’d never heard us, he was really enjoying it.  And I remember, after the record was made, we played a show with Bane or something, and he came to see us.  It was probably the only time he ever saw us and he was really excited about it.  It was cool that he actually made it out and saw us.

After the record came out you all had some big plans for touring.  What happened between the record coming out and then the band pretty much stopping that changed things?

It was a lot of different factors.  Adam was thinking about going to school in New York and he was feeling creatively a bit stuck.  He kind of wanted to do his own thing, like make music on his own.  But the biggest thing, and it’s obviously not his fault, but Max had a heart issue.  He got strep throat and it somehow went into his heart!  He couldn’t play drums for something like 4 months.  He didn’t really want anyone knowing, and he didn’t want us feeling like we were blaming him in any way.  So he was in the hospital for a few weeks and when he got out he couldn’t touch a drum set, he couldn’t work, he couldn’t do anything physical, and it just happened at the worst possible time.  It just hit the brakes so hard and everyone was like, ‘uh-oh’.  We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to make this work.  And by the time he was able to play again it just felt too late.  Ben was kind of done.  Adam seemed like he was disinterested.  I remember that time and I thought we were going to tour.  We had a tour booked and we had to cancel it because of what happened to Max.  We had a weekend booked with Verse that we were going to do and that’s when I began to think that people were going to start noticing us.
If things had gone differently, and I don’t know how I would characterize ‘successful’, but I think if we had done what we planned we would have hit that next sort of level, whatever that might have been.
I remember that time playing a show with Black God, in an apartment, in downtown Rochester-

I remember that show too and they were starting a tour, and Rochester was the first date.  So they drove like 12 hours to play an apartment show to like 20 people and then had to turn around and go back to Louisville due to a family emergency.

Yeah!  And we had planned to hang with them all afterwards and then they just had to split.  And also at that show I recall we weren’t getting along all that well and then the thing with Black God happened, and it was just sort of a bummer feeling all around.  And then like a week later I remember people being like, ‘I’m not sure if this is going to work anymore.’  And that was a big bummer.  I was so proud of that record, and so happy with it, and was like ‘how could we not tour on this?’

Looking back at the LP is there anything you dislike about it, or would change?

No.  If anything, I might change a bit about the way it was recorded. I wanted to capture a little more the way we played live.  But really, other than that, nothing.  It was really the perfect scenario for all of us at the time.  It captured that moment in time of all of us doing this record.  We worked so hard on it.  It’s one of the best memories for me, musically.  We were practicing 3-4 times a week, writing songs, it was so fun.

Yet strangely enough, a couple years go by you guys played a few shows, very randomly too.

I think when we split up I thought that it was stupid and said we needed to play a show or something.  So we played a ‘last show’ and that was a blast.  It was like a huge party.
And then, about a year or two later, I think Soul Control was coming through, and they were worried about people not showing up, so they asked us to play.  So we did again.
And then, I think it was last summer, a band from around here put their record out and they jokingly asked us to play, and I said, ‘I don’t see why not, I’ll ask the guys’.

Sure, everyone still gets along right?

Oh yeah.  It’s four of my best friends, as well as Garwood.  It’s kind of like six members of Like Wolves.  And we were jamming, when we were getting ready for that show last year, and we wrote a song.  I wanted to pitch the idea of writing a few more songs and do things the way that Achilles does it- if we have time we’ll do it.  That was how it was originally.  Time’s scarce, especially these days.  But I’m always down, and everyone knows that.  I think everyone is down.  It’s just got to be the right time for everyone.

And most of you all still play together in Coming Down.  So, in a way, it’s sort of Like Wolves- the continuation.

Yeah, but it’s all Jon Garwood writing those songs.  He has this really great sense of melody, but still keeping it heavy and intense.  It’s funny to watch him write riffs.  I’ve known him for so long and I’m like, ‘where do you come up with this stuff?’  Rob Antonucci (Achilles) said it sounds like Rush.  He said, ‘you don’t sound like Rush, but your timing is like Rush’.  That’s an interesting cool compliment I’ve never heard before.

I don’t hear it, but if Rob is saying this then, ya know…

I think he may have been talking about one specific song.  But we all love playing and Coming Down is basically what it is to be 30-something and in a band.  Rory has kids.  Max just got married, I’m getting married soon.  We’re, sadly, sort of adults now.  We do it when we have time.  If anything, I like to be able to say that I’ve been playing with Max for over 10 years and with Jon for over 15 years.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m just glad I can still play with them.

What’s the best thing about Like Wolves and what is the worst?

I think the best thing about Like Wolves, for me, was that we made every possible moment that we could be fun.  Any show we played, any practice, for 95% of the time we made asses out of ourselves and it was always about fun.  That was the number one thing to do.  So we definitely succeeded in that.
The worst thing was probably going back to what I said about timing.  If timing was different, if we had maybe decided to take a break and stop the gears rolling, just took six months off and then re-grouped I feel like we very well could still be a band right now and doing things.  We’ve all talked about that and have all agreed that we just should have sucked it up and stopped arguing about stupid shit and took a break.  But you don’t see a lot of bands do that.  They either just keep going and kill their longevity and they break up anyways, or they just break up sooner.
I tend to look up to Achilles and how they’re doing it.  It’s awesome.  They’re all still friends and they make it work when they can, and I wish we had gotten to do that.  But as long as I still get to see my friends I don’t really care in the long run.

And there you have it.  Like every one of these things here's your chance to get this record on the cheap.  It only came out on LP and digital.  So go HERE if you want that LP for $5, or the digital version for $4.  One week only.

As for the members current whereabouts- Phil, Jon, and Max play together in Coming Down, who will be releasing material through Hex later this year.  Trevor has been playing in Green Dreams for a few years.  Adam plays in a new band called Pomelo, and Ben has been at it with his hip-hop project Benny Beyond for quite awhile now.  About once in a blue moon they all get together and  play as Like Wolves for the fuck of it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR025- HEX RECORDS 10 YEAR COMPILATION CD/ZINE


2009 was a banner year for the label.  It was our 10th anniversary after all!  And to cap off the year I wanted to make something special.  I started thinking about a project that I could make myself, something that would be like a condensed version of this crazy project that I’m doing all this year.
The idea was to do a mixtape of some kind, something from nearly everything I had released to that point, all my favorite songs.  I wasn’t really concerned with making a ‘sampler’, and only choosing the singles.  I wanted to take what my favorite songs were (it was tough to keep it to under 30 tracks), and then also add a bunch of bonus, unreleased stuff (of which I had a considerable amount of).  To top it off, the CD (it wasn’t a tape after all because tapes suck) came with a zine I made to go with the compilation that had a little blurb about each band, old zine excerpts, flyers, plenty of pictures, and a lot of stuff that is kind of like a physical version of what I am doing with these ‘making of’ pieces.  



The whole thing was once again put together on the cheap- using a local replication service to make the CDs, and the unwatchful eye of the local Office Max to ensure that their employees did not give a rat’s ass about me walking out of the place with hundreds of unpaid copies.  I printed the covers on a heavy stock paper, and folded over the back to make a pocket for the CD while the zine was stapled into the rest of it.  I cut everything to size myself, which is rather obvious because a lot of them look far from perfect.



But that’s kind of always the way I rolled.  I’m fully aware that DIY should not be an excuse to make things look like shit.  But I totally believe in the spontaneity of it and taking a stab at things yourself, and that’s kind of what I did.  So it didn’t look perfect, but it was a fun project to take on.
After picking out tracks from the records I had actually released I finally found a home for a number of bonus tracks that had been otherwise unavailable, including a Playing Enemy song that they never used before splitting up, a couple Achilles tracks that had never been used before (one of which was a Nirvana cover with the theme song from Beverley Hills 90210 inserted in the middle for some reason), an Oak and Bone song that was a download-only track from their first 7”, and an unused The Helm song from their debut 7”.  I had also known about some Spark Lights the Friction- the first actual band I released a record for- material that was lost to the ages.  Their only full length- “L’Homme Robotik”, released by Trustkill Records- was actually recorded twice.  The first time the band was unhappy with how it came out and they then went down to Inner Ear in Washington, DC to re-record the whole album.  However, this original recording just sat on 2” tape, never having been fully mixed and it contained not only what became their full length, but also a cover song.  The band loaned it out to me, I took it over to the only guy in town with analog equipment that could transfer the 2” tape to digital and then had our man Jocko at Moresound mix and master it.  They ended up doing a wild cover of “Fortunate Son” that was worth the hassle to finally get it out on some format.
Hex Records- the label, the coffee mug


I also made coffee mugs that bore the image of the burning cop car from the cover of this compilation.  That was not an official catalog release.  It was a coffee mug.  And it was big.  I thought lots of coffee was always a good way to enjoy bands that I put out records for and these mugs were certainly large.  So that was a little bonus item.  They were a pain in the ass to create because not only are they really delicate to ship, but the stupid company that made them apparently didn’t know what an e-mail signature was and when I sent them the image to put on the mug they also included my e-mail signature, which was my name, address, phone number, and a list of upcoming releases that showed up under the image.  How stupid is that?  They begrudgingly agreed to re-print them, correctly this time.  And I also had about 5 dozen bogus mugs that I had no idea what to do with.  I guess you could still put coffee in them, but it just wasn’t the same.
 The 10 year anniversary show

To top off the year, aside from making mugs, a compilation, releasing 6 records, all while unemployed and going heavily into debt, I decided a 10 year anniversary show was in order.  I contacted just about every active (and some non-active) bands on the roster and put together a show for whichever of them could make it.  The Prize Country LP had just come out and they were going on a nationwide tour in support of it so I decided to do the show based around their touring schedule since they were coming from farthest away.  Ed Gein were pulled out of semi-retirement to headline, while my old band No Idols did a ‘final’ show since we had rather abruptly ended as a band a couple years before that.  Night Owls, End Of a Year, and Oak and Bone rounded out the bill.  The first 50 people through the door got a numbered copy of the compilation just for showing up.
There was an after show as well, which featured my other band Mistletoe, Prize Country again, and the band they were on tour with- Git Some (ex-Planes Mistaken For Stars).  I tell ya- playing two sets in a day with different bands, while running both shows, putting together this compilation, and making sure everything ran smoothly was kind of exhausting.
 10 year anniversary show after show.  A show followed by a show.

But it was all a fun way to celebrate that kept me very active (and very stressed) the whole year.  When I compare it to what has been happening for this 20 year anniversary it’s certainly a lot less stressful (I am employed so paying for records I plan to release is not as much of an issue), but a bit removed (I’m 3000 miles away from where my home base was).  The label doesn’t have as much ‘local connection’ as it once did so getting bands together to buddy up, tour together, or just play a show or two together doesn’t happen as much.  The bands I’ve done records for are spread out all over the place- Seattle, Philly, Alabama, England.  And even some of the bands I have always worked with for years have members scattered across the country.
Doing this comp was quite literally a turning point for the label.  Many of the bands that formed the foundations of Hex Records were either finished, put on hold, or were forming new groups.  New crops of kids were starting bands and some of them came into the fold eventually.  After 2009 I took a little time off to pay down some debt and didn’t release anything for the next year pretty much.  Oh, and I started working a job again, so I kind of thought about focusing on that for a bit.  It had been a very busy year and as a one-man operation, as this has pretty much always been, I definitely needed a little rest.

At this point, the zine portion of this comp is sold out.  There was an overrun of the CDs so I still have those and basically any order for anything from the store from now until they run out will come with the CD comp and a new, exceptionally more DIY, cover to go with it.  It's not as elaborate, but it's still cool.  Also, if you just want those digital tracks you can get them through the bandcamp, all 27 tracks, for just $3 for the next week.

Monday, June 24, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR024- PRIZE COUNTRY, "With Love"


Honestly, the story around releasing the second full length from Portland’s Prize Country is pretty boring, but one that shows that once I get an idea in my head I’m pretty driven to see it through, no matter how dumb or ridiculous it might be.
I distinctly remember reading a review in a trusted publication I respect for a band called Prize Country and their debut full length, “Lottery Of Recognition”.  The comparisons made were enough for me to really get pretty excited to check it out.  I sought out their music on the interhole, absolutely fell in love with it, and then noticed they were going out on an extensive U.S. tour.  I saw that Buffalo was one of the dates on that tour- a scant 2 hours away from me.  I decided then and there my band at the time- Mistletoe- should do a little touring around that same time and try to play a couple shows on the Prize Country tour.  Why not?  Well, we played some shows and that Buffalo show was the only one we connected with Prize Country on.   We played one of the best spots in town for shows- Mohawk Place.  It’s a great spot with great sound and toes the line between DIY punk ethics and respectable establishment you could invite your parents to.  It’s a great place to play.
I didn’t think the show would be all that big since it was a Monday or something, but I didn’t expect it to be all of about 4 people in attendance.  As we arrived the door guy straight up said, ‘Why did you want to play this?  You know the Sabres are playing tonight, right?’  I kind of laughed a bit, but he was dead serious.  Buffalo people don’t fuck around with their sports, it’s pretty crazy.  If it’s bands on a Monday night, or the Sabres they’re choosing the Sabres.

Well, I kind of didn’t care either way because we were playing with Prize Country and I was excited to see, in person, how they were live.  And even in that empty room they really brought it, and played so damn tight and loud that I was convinced right then and there that I ought to try and do a record for them.
I talked with them quite a bit that night and vowed to stay in touch.  My communications were primarily with their guitarist/vocalist Aaron Blanchard, who I learned I sort of met years ago as he was a touring guitarist with the one and only Fall Silent.  To go from the metallic insanity of that band to the heavy-handed post-hardcore of what he was doing now was not a huge stretch, but a different game nonetheless.  As I dug deeper, I found out Aaron had a pretty deep history with some notable projects, including a stint as guitarist for a studio band featuring all of Kiss It Goodbye (minus Keith Huckins) known as Family Man that made it as far as cutting a demo before splitting up.
So over the next few months we talked and came to an agreement for Hex to release their next LP, which became “With Love”.  It was released in October of 2009, right in time for the label’s 10th anniversary and a show to celebrate that milestone.  Prize Country toured all the way out from Portland for the celebration and I sort of set the show up around their touring schedule, since they were coming from farthest away. 
Above all else Prize Country were a touring machine.  They toured heavily.  They went everywhere and never seemed to stop.  But in their willingness to play absolutely anywhere that would have them it often led to playing crappy dive bars, middle-of-nowhere empty rooms, and dead-end spots just so they could fill a weeknight without taking a day off.  It was a strong work ethic, but frequently led to poorly attended gigs.  As a band they never dug too deep into the DIY scene for spaces to play for whatever reason.  Maybe as older adults they left it behind, or lost touch with people who still did that.  It could have served them better, who knows.  But that tireless ethic to just play all the time, no matter where, led to burnout and after a couple months of touring on “With Love” it seemed as if some of the band had had enough and decided to step away.  It was difficult to recover from that as each member of the band was indispensible.  They were all such strong players.  Prize Country quietly called it quits after some attempts to keep it going and that’s the end of their story.
I lost touch with Aaron not too long after that and was really unsure of what he ended up doing with himself.  That is until I also moved to Portland, and I had no idea if he was still in town.  A whole year went by of living out here and I randomly ended up seeing him at a show.  Yeah, it took a whole year of living here before I caught up with him.  The dude just stays off social media.  I don’t blame him.  But now that we had each others phone numbers it was high time to give him a call, meet up in our shared city, and catch up on the last ten years or so.



So it’s been 10 years…  what have you been up to?

(laughs) Hmmm, what do I tell people I haven’t seen in 10 years?

Feel free to summarize.

Workin’, playin’, ya know, I’m in some bands.  I think since Prize Country fell apart I have been in around a dozen bands locally.  I’ve played drums, guitar, bass.  So, staying in music I came to the realization that it’s OK for me to not be in a touring band.  I don’t need to be going bananas and throwing my whole life at it.
The short answer is that I have been finding a nice balance of music and stability.  At the time (of Prize Country) I didn’t have that balance, or that stability.  I didn’t have that mechanism that makes you say, ‘in order to do this I need to have X,Y or Z first’.  No, it was just that.  That’s the only thing.  Which is really why the band fell apart.

You mentioned you were born out here, but spent a lot of your life in Reno before coming back here.  What kind of music were you doing there and then what led you to move to Portland?

I had an argument with my wife about this.  I say I am an Oregon native, but I was raised in Nevada.  I was born in Oregon, but I’d always been going to Nevada, specifically Northern Nevada, or the Tahoe Basin.  I’ve been going out there since I was zero because my grandparents lived out there.  Reno wasn’t too far away, so when I was in high school that was sort of the big town to go see some of the larger punk and hardcore shows.  And the Tahoe area isn’t too far from the san Francisco Bay area so I’d travel out there a bunch to see the big, big shows.  The stuff that wouldn’t stop through Reno.  The punk rock stuff always did, but not the big shows like Soundgarden.

Well, Reno had 7 Seconds, so there’s your punk foundation.

Yeah, they definitely established a scene there.  I was actually just listening to an interview with Ian MacKaye and he mentions Reno as he’s haphazardly going through a list of cities that used to have great scenes and a relative regional sound.  7 Seconds had a very specific sound.  Who else would have done that?
 pretty nice review, right?

When there’s nothing else around you, you have to make it up as you go along.

Yeah!  So, in high school I started playing in bands too.  But it wasn’t until I was about 17 that I picked up a guitar.  I bought a bass.  I had no idea what I was intending to do.  I just bought a bass.  I think my thought was, ‘this will be easy, it’s only got four strings!’  And it just so happened that me and a couple buddies from high school had that sort of pots and pans origin where you just kind of pick up anything and see what sort of noise it will make.  And I remember a dude who actually knew how to play guitar came down and was like, ‘Hey, do you guys know how to tune?  If you tune that to G, and that to A, it will sound better.’  And then it was all like the symphony getting ready to play and it all sort of made sense to me, and that was a big awakening for me.
Then I moved to Eugene for awhile and did some school for about two and a half years.  I had all my gear with me and I had actually come across a number of people who knew how to play, but no one wanted to be in a band.  I was there around ’95 and ’96, and all this great stuff had been coming around like Quicksand, Jawbox, Jawbreaker, Chavez, and Sunny Day.  All those bands were blowing my mind.  And then you had Northwest bands like Engine Kid and stuff like that going bananas.  I was checking out shows from those bands here and there and in the meantime I’m just dying to do what those bands were doing.
I think a lot of the cats I knew were sort of neo-hippies.  We would all just get high and have Rocky Raccoon on the guitar, and some guy playing bongos and I just could not hang with that.
Cut to later in ’96 I moved back to Nevada and caught up with a friend of mine who was this metalhead guy.  He mentioned he and his friend were starting a band and I asked him to keep in touch because I would be happy to join up.  But he thought I was full of shit.  He thought I was kidding.  But they eventually gave me a call and I came over and in one afternoon I learned what they had and they saw I was serious.  That was my first band that actually played shows.
There were a lot of punk rock bands going through Reno at that time, and when I was still out there, like between ’96 and 2000 there were so many good bands in town!  Reno was exploding with cool bands for awhile.  So I was playing out in bands and playing with all these great bands out there.
I went back to Eugene for love.  An old high school sweeteart had moved out there and I was sort of a mess, and everyone could see it.  Even my parents knew.  They just said to me, ‘why don’t you go out to Eugene?’, and that’s really all I needed.  So I packed up and left.  I was gone.  I dropped whatever classes I was in.  So I moved out there and was there for a few years, and then me and her moved up to Portland.  I’ve been in Portland since 2003.

Prize Country (from l to r): Josh Nurthcutt, Jabob Depollite, Jon Hausler, Aaron Blanchard

How did Prize Country start?

I had a band here called Shamelady.  We toured a bunch.  At one point we were on tour and played in Salt Lake City and we played with Jacob Depollite’s (Prize Country guitarist) band.  He was in a band called Union Of the Snake, which we jokingly called Union Of the Jake.  They were really, really good.  They were one of the best bands we saw on tour.  Jake is also a really good guitar player, so it stands out.  Plus, he’s like 8 feet tall, so he really stands out.  So we vibed pretty hard.
I got back from that tour and I quit playing in Shamelady.  The band dissolved.  Jake and I had spoken and he worked for a label called The End Records.  That label was about to move to New York City and he was saying he didn’t want to move to NYC.  So I jokingly said, ‘why don’t you move to Portland?’ and he said, ‘OK’.  I think within two months he was moved out here.
He asked if he cold sleep on my couch for a little bit until he got settled and I said sure.  I think within a week he found a job and a place to live.  I was getting ready to have this slumber party thing ready to go, and he’s got it together right away.  He does not fuck around.
At this point there was a guy I worked with I was playing drums with, and a guy I met off of Craigslist playing bass.  I would kind of just fire out ads saying asking if anyone knows about all these bands to kind of weed out people who wouldn’t be a good fit.  Not to be too much of a snob, but if you know some of the bands I’m listing than it’s going to automatically cut through a bunch of bullshit real quick.  So that guy turned out to be great.  He had great gear, a great tone, and we were on the same page.
The drummer, Brian, he was fine.  But he didn’t really want to do anything.  He kind of just wanted to get together once a week and hang out.
And when Jake moved out he ended up meeting Josh (Northcutt, Prize Country drummer) at a show and mentioned he was starting a band with me and Josh stated he wanted to be a part of it.  So then I had to figure out how to get rid of the drummer we had who didn’t really want to be a part of the band, but still be cool with him.  So I just let him know that we wanted write, record, and go on tour.  And he was fine with it, so that was pretty easy.
So that’s the origin of me, Jake, Josh, and our first bassist.
Once we got moving we recorded an EP, did a short little tour to test things out, and after that run our bassist said that he didn’t want to do this and he wanted to go back to school.  So we got our friend Jon (Hausler, bassist), who was a bartender friend who played in a couple great bands, and he was always around the Prize Country shows taking pictures.  He said he really liked our band and I asked him if he wanted to learn the bass parts and go on tour with us because our first bassist couldn’t do it.  Jon was down with it, everything went great, and while we were on that tour our first bassist actually called us to tell us he wouldn’t have time to do the band at all and he was fine if Jon wanted to take his place.  It was about as seamless and amicable as you could imagine.



Were you always a touring type?  Prize Country toured very heavily and I imagine not all the members were accustomed to that lifestyle.

I was in a band in Reno that toured a lot and that was sort of the litmus test.  That’s where I learned that you write songs, you record them, and then you go on tour.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  So that was my early onset tour syndrome.

Was that Fall Silent?

Yeah.  So I did a two month U.S. tour with them in 1999, and then a 7 week European tour with them in 2000, and a 10 day Japanese tour around that same time.
The first time I went out with them it was explained to me that I could continue to tour with them, but there was a lot of touring up ahead and I thought, ‘this sounds like a dream to me!’  I even dropped out of school to practice with them more.
And if you were to ask those guys they would tell you that we weren’t really friends.  We weren’t buds.  They had already done the touring thing and they were not going to wait around for me.  They were more seasoned.  The lesson I learned was indelible.  It was valuable.  I didn’t need to be their buddies, or feel like I was loved.  It was ‘do your job’.  I don’t want to make them sound mean.  They’re actually very nice people.  But in this case it was more like boot camp.



 Aaron playing with Fall Silent in Syracuse 1999 (he's the dude in white in the back)

So that put in your mind that you wanted to tour a lot?

Oh yeah.  No doubt.  I had no reservations about doing that.  That’s what I wanted to do.  I don’t know why exactly because it’s not always a pleasant experience.  I would say I definitely learned a lot about myself, and what I could put up with because I see playing out as important.
I love those Fall Silent guys and what they taught me was more valuable than anything I could take away from school, aside from maybe just traveling in general.  Once I did it I knew I could do this.  It doesn’t always need to be daisies and rainbows.  It’s fun on it’s own merits.  I wasn’t going to give up.  I also had nothing else going on, so why not?
And that attitude carried on into Shamelady.  I thought, ‘this is what you do.’  You start a band, write a record, and then go on tour.  This is how it works.  We need to get a van, there’s some real costs involved in this.  Everyone needs to be on board.  And in Shamelady I was sort of the guy who took care of everything.  But I also wasn’t asking anything of my bandmates.  They worked hard too.  I was just the guy that took care of the van and booked the shows, and did the business end.
So when Prize Country started Jake had had a similar experience.  So I was like, ‘oh, you do that too?’  He was the guy in his band who did all the booking, and all the driving, and taking care of the van and whatever.

It’s a nice feeling being able to share the work.

Yeah exactly!  So Jake and I were like, ‘this is the best’.  Not only do we get to share this workload together, but we get to commiserate about the pitfalls of taking care of all this stuff.

Was that something made clear from the get-go?  Did the band come with the expectation that you were going to do it full time pretty much?

Yeah, that’s what we wanted to do.  Actually, I recall a few conversations where Jake and I said that we just wanted to be in a rock band.  We didn’t even care about touring.  We just wanted to be in a fun rock band, remember what it’s like to have fun and play shows, and just rip it up.
I think we played one or two local shows and we said, ‘we gotta fuckin’ tour!’ (laughs)
But I think it ended up being like that show Alone.  Have you ever seen that show?  It’s like that reality show where people go out into the wilderness and they build themselves a hut, or they build themselves a little boat, and go fishing in it, and they make themselves little nets and traps and all this shit.  But when it comes to mental health, and just being alone, that’s when they crack.  They just implode.
And that was sort of like touring with Prize Country.  I didn’t realize there was a mental element to doing this.  We had all the tools and the gear and the ability.  But the mental component is a crucial factor.  I think we went just a little too hard and we cracked.  Everyone started cracking apart.
 Top- the art by artist Michael Wohlberg, as well as the different vinyl covers
Below- the record that the cover art is based upon

Prize Country was definitely a heavy rock band, but the argument could be made that you fell under a wide umbrella of hardcore-punk music, or at least emerged from that scene, which can often be a bit pious.  That all being said, I’m surprised by how many of those songs were straight up about dirty sexing.  It kind of makes me blush to think about.

I don’t think that was a question that I even considered. I’m happy you mentioned that because it had never occurred to me.  It was something, as a band, we never considered.  I can tell you, speaking for myself, while we love a lot of hardcore music, and some of that scene, it did seem a little silly to be so serious.
I remember way back I had a buddy that I saw cry in the locker room during half time of a football game when I was in high school.  And I thought, ‘What the fuck?  This isn’t real life.  We’re in high school and we’re playing football.  Where are we going from here?  We’re going to go into the parking lot afterwards and get shitfaced.’  Why is this so intense?
So that sort of attitude with me, and I could probably unpack that more, is that it’s not that big of a deal.  Don’t take yourself so seriously.  So a lot of the Prize Country stuff was that we really just wanted to have fun.  We wanted this to be fun.
However, there’s real honesty in the lyrics.  There’s no other way to write.  How could I have not written what I wrote, especially if I’m trying to think of what the rules were for heavy music.  We were a rock band, we just came from a hardcore scene.

I think maybe plenty of hardcore bands sing about the same stuff, they’re just not as direct, or blunt, about it.

Yeah, sure.  Our English was a bit different.  We were more on the nose.  I didn’t really know how else to do it.  I will say, though, that when constructing lyrics I usually have batches and batches of lyrics.  I’d have a lot that I wanted to say and it would be in more of a prose, short-story kind of way.  So there were a lot of words.  But we would always write the music first, and then I would kind of just plug-and-play to see what worked.  I’d have music and find lyrics that fit the sort of emotion that the music evoked. “It was a Night Like Tonight”, or “Regular Nights”, and “What We’re Made Of” are the big sort of, filthy, sexy songs.  I think they’re romantic.  But when I whittle down the lyrics and work on my phrasing, and think about melodies, and plugging this stuff in and still think, ‘I have to play guitar while I’m doing this’.  I have to be able to do this live and do it well.  I honestly sort of dumb it down because I had to edit down a bunch and still be able to do it live.
But I never thought about it too much.  I’d never second-guessed myself about it before, but maybe now I can look back and think that was sort of ballsy.  I may be a little more subversive about how I say things now, or be a bit more guarded.  But I think back then it just came out.  That probably had to do with how much I was drinking at the time.  Liquid balls.

What did you feel were some of the big differences between your first album, “Lottery Of Recognition” and “With Love”?

It’s weird.  I think “With Love” is so much more ‘mature’.  Like, everything was aligned.  Everything was in place.  We were a fully-formed band.
But it goes back and forth.  It’s like what’s your favorite Propaghandi record, or your favorite Dillinger 4 record?  It could change week-to-week. 
“Lottery” feels a little more punk.  It was thrown together pretty fast, which is great, because it worked.  There’s some spontaneity with it.  I was a little out of my comfort zone being behind the mic.  There was a little magic that happened on that record that none of us were aware of, like ‘whoh, it worked!’  I like how quickly we put it together and how it turned out.  I even tried my hand a little at writing some political lyrics on that.
Whereas, “With Love” is way more naked.  And by that I mean it’s more gross, sweaty, and waking up on someone’s couch with your balls hanging out.  That’s really uncomfortable.

What were some of the ideas going into making that record, and what was the general status of the band during that time?

We would just have really good practices.  We were in a couple different spots.  We were practicing in this little tiny place for awhile.  And “With Love” we would come home from various tours and write two songs, go back on tour, play those two songs for a couple weeks, come back and write three more songs, go back on tour and play those five new songs, and just battle them out.
And that was a good way to test out and see what we wanted to keep, what we wanted to ditch, what would work good live, what we wanted to keep but not play it live, and so on. 
So we had this practice space downtown that we ended up moving into after having that tiny space.  A guy we knew that rented spaces told us about a place he had just bought.  It was a bar, but he wasn’t going to do anything with it for at least a year, so it just sat empty downtown.  And it was right next door to one of our favorite bars called The Tube.  So he said we could rent it for $300 a month and it was this big, empty space with a bathroom and everything.  So we got to have this enormous space all to ourselves, not sharing it with any other bands, or having to compete with bands next door to you to hear anything.  So we would just write and write and we had some great sessions there.
I remember writing “It was a Night Like Tonight” and one other song in that space while Jake was gone visiting a friend in Salt Lake.  He was a little mad that we wrote them without him, but he picked up on it and it was just fire.
And we basically wrote most of Side A of “With Love” in this one spot and then we wrote most of Side B in this other space we had in inner Southeast.  I know we wrote the last song on the record there, as well as “Cement”.
But writing that record had a lot to do with those spaces, as well as what was right next to them.  So we would go and get dinner at this one place, and then practice, or we would go get drunk and then ride our bikes to the practice spots.  We always rode our bikes around, ya know, from work to the bar, or to the practice.  An sometimes we would get a little too drunk to practice so we would skip practice.
But there was a little burnout happening around this time, we could tell.  But we knew we wanted to do this record, and we knew how heavily we were going to be hitting the road once it was out, and how hard we wanted to work the record.  We were working towards making the band sustainable.
The dream was not really money.  It was just to make the band be able to perpetuate.  To be able to just keep writing, recording, and playing out.  Can we please do that?  Is there a way to do that?  I thought non-stop touring was the way to do that.  And I don’t think I had the mechanism to stop myself, and manage the stability and mental health to make it work.  But it’s the hardest I ever worked on anything I think.  It was a ton of fun though, and there’s also embarrassing moments that make my face turn red even to this day.  Stuff like actual alcoholics telling me I needed to slow down.
We were so looking at the future without really considering the present, but I was elated to be making that record regardless.  And I think we got so focused on looking into the future that not being in the present was bd.  And it did cause us to fall apart eventually.  Of course, there was a lot of booze and drugs too that led to that.  And that’s when you met us!
One of many tours the band did

Do you have anything you would change about “With Love” given some time to reflect on it?

No.  I’ve embraced the idea of things I’ve recorded being a true reflection of what was happening at that time.  So it is what it is for when it happened.  Now if I were doing something on that record like rapping, then yeah, I would definitely want to make some changes.  But again, I’m proud to say there’s such honesty on that record, the likes of which I haven’t gotten back.  It’s not a sob story.  I’m patting myself on the back for it.  I wouldn’t change anything about any of the stuff.
Now that it was been nearly 10 years since Prize Country stopped playing I can look back and think if we would have took six months off to cool down things would have been different.  We might still be a band.  But in those last 10 years an entire life has happened- I’ve been in a bunch of other bands, I got married, so I have no regrets.  The four of us from Prize Country are all friends still and we’re all in good places, so things are good.

What was the best thing about Prize Country, and what was the worst?

Oh geez.  I think the best thing was just the work.  Just what we managed to do in five years was quite a bit.  Because that really is a short amount of time.  Five years goes by quick.  For me, the songs take a back seat to the work.  We busted our asses.  You had four dudes who didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.  We were totally untethered with careers and life.  We all agreed that we were going to crush this, this is what we want to do, and we’re going to do this the hardest we can and the best that we can.
And the worst thing was kind of failing that.  We worked that hard and the goal I was working for- to have the band sustain itself- didn’t happen even with the amount of work we were putting in, it still kind of fell apart.  But we were burnt out, and having drugs and booze in the picture didn’t help.  And at some point you just need to settle down, go to the nest, and take a break and recover and we didn’t do that enough.
I was just talking about this the other day- I stopped drinking around seven years ago.  I didn’t do the 12 steps or anything like that.  I just realized that I had to knock it off.  It wasn’t doing me any good.  So having done that I realized that I was just sort of uncomfortable, like every day.  And drinking made me comfortable.  So I would do it all the goddamn time.  So when you take the possibility that the four of us in the band were uncomfortable, and we’re uncomfortable on the road with people we don’t know, and uncomfortable at venues with shitty sound guys who are dicks to us, and all these uncomfortable things…  and I feel like we were pretty good at being outside our comfort zones.  But that would grind away at us.  And that added to things.  I know that’s certainly not unique to our band, but it was a realization to me for sure.
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And there you have it.  That was a long one.  but when you don't see a dude for nearly a decade it makes some sense to catch up for awhile.  And since you made it this far here's your prize (pun intended):  Get "With Love", by Prize Country for just $5 this whole week.  That's right, one gatefold vinyl LP for $5 right HERE.  And if you want the CD it's only $4.  And if you just want them digital tracks..  you know it, $4.  Do it.