Wednesday, July 24, 2019


I'd been thinking that it was sort of a slow year for new music that really caught my attention.  I mean, there's been some good stuff, sure.  But no real record of the year sort of contenders for me yet...  until all this stuff suddenly came out.  Just in this batch of reviews I'm counting at least 3-4 year end favorites.  And a lot of Relapse stuff.  They put out a lot of stuff recently that I like, no favoritism or payoffs present.  So take that as you will.  Perhaps I'm just getting more picky in my old age.  Whatever the case you ultimately can be the judge, I'm just the tour guide.

ALPHA HOPPER, “Aloha Hopper”
Alpha Hopper are such a difficult band to pin down in terms of sound that I looked up my own review of their last album and decided it was completely inaccurate, and then googled other reviews to see if anything stuck out and still nothing really nails it.  But that’s great!  They are a rather indescribable band in regards to labels.  However, to say they are a freaky punk/post-punk band could be an umbrella term I suppose.  Either way, on their second full length the Buffalo group break out 11 new off-the-wall rippers that have a continuous frantic, nervous energy to them.  That tension is often ramped up by vocalist Irene Rekhviasvili whose loud, brash, and bratty voice can either completely turn potential listeners away out of annoyance, or be seen as the essential component that adds to the band’s unique nature.  I’ll admit, when I first heard this band I was thrown off by how up front her vocals were and wasn’t sure if I wanted an album full of that.  But after a couple listens I came to the conclusion that it’s fucking awesome and it totally fits into the bands aesthetic.  As for the music I don’t know what to tell you.  There’s no bassist (just two guitarists), but they use some bass distortion in parts to add that low end (like the slow-low riffing in “Blood Test”).  “You Eat” has a driving, rhythmic flow that adds some very Jesus Lizard-esque slide guitar on top.  “Line In/Line Out” takes some more Jesus Lizard cues in that serpentine crawl, but with more space effects.  And it can be said the band owes a debt of gratitude to Fugazi’s experimentation with guitar sounds while keeping things catchy and almost anthemic, though I’d be hard pressed to find a weirder sing-along than the closing bit of “Dawn Of the Knife Mask” and it’s repeated chorus of “And the fools, they’re not people, they are ghouls.”  If that helps with descriptions then I’ll just add one more thing- this is a really fucking cool record and I’m really happy the band finally has something new to offer the world.  It’s weirder and better for it/because of it.  (Swimming Faith/ Radical Empathy)

CHERUBS, “Immaculada High”
Cherubs last outing, the comeback “2ynfynyty” record (and accompanying “Fist In the Air” EP) was a riotous blast of feedback-drenched, glorious noise rock head-fuck orchestrated by three guys who melded their fuzzy crush with Beach Boys melodies.  It was damn near perfect.  They seemed headed in a more pop direction (to the extent that could occur through off-timed filthy noise rock) and I was fully prepared for a catchy follow-up.  However, “Immaculada High” is a bit different to me.  It took a few listens before it really caught on.  For starters, the recording feels significantly different.  It’s less in-your-face and ‘bright’, for lack of a better word.  It’s more subdued.  And instead of the band’s pop tendencies coming more to the front they instead opt for some more psychedelic vibes, particularly through Kevin Whitley’s strained, nasally vocals.  They open strong with “Turista”, an expected amalgamation of Cherubs molten, off-time groove confusion and Whitley’s strained howl.  Next up is “18 the Number”, a quick and dirty number that has just as much freaked-out aggression as well-worn Cherubs tracks of yore like “Carjack Fairy” or “Shoofly”.  But it’s the tracks that work a bit outside of the band’s comfort zone(s) that I’m still sorting out.  I guess that’s a good thing because they’re challenging to describe.  Whether they work or not is debatable but it’s cool to see Cherubs flexing on something a bit new, which for a band that took a twenty year break only to come back with some of their best material, is pretty cool.  “IMCG” plays with a tripped-out sort of dub fever dream, while “Cry Real Wolves” works a disco beat across a sweat-filled single riff for three minutes, and “Full Regalia” maintains a creepy stalking bass line with somber noise and an almost post-hardcore approach.  And then the band goes with primal aggression and collapsing beats for under two minutes on “Pacemaker”, while “Nobodies” closes out the record with a dumptruck of a riff crushing any notion of a band purely hooked on…  well, hooks.  It’s a varied experience on this latest Cherubs record and I’m totally down for the ride.  They choose to try some different things and go in an almost opposite direction of what people may have expected their next move to be.  (Relapse)

EXHALANTS, “Trample the Cross Under Foot”
Texas dudes who went and made one of my favorite records last year return with a new EP that was intended as a tour-only sort of thing when they hit up the West Coast a couple months back.  These songs were definitely recorded on the fly as they are definitely not high quality by any means.  Generally that’s something that irks me a bit seeing as getting a decent recording is significantly easier these days than it was 10-15 years ago.  However, as Exhalants excel in being loud, chaotic, and noisy, the subpar recording is hardly a crime in their case.  It sort of works for them.  And I have some degree of confidence that they will more than likely re-record some of these songs for a proper release later on down the line.  Either way, they drop five new songs that lean big on a slow and chuggy side of things (especially on the first song) for the most part.  Some of the flourishes inherent to the band- tingling melodies, skronk, and chunk feedback heaviness, and tense abrasiveness- are on display as well.  I know, as far as the recording goes, this doesn’t hold a candle to their LP, but it’s new Exhalants stuff and I’ll take it.  I’m hoping to hear more from them soon.  (self-released)

GIANTS CHAIR, “Prefabylon”
23 years.  It’s been 23 years since Giants Chair released a record.  I mean, they were most definitely broken up for a long time.  But a couple years ago they decided to give it a go again and now here we are with a wonderful new LP from them, easily my favorite of the 90’s Midwestern ‘emo’ bands, though they certainly leaned heavier on an indie, or post-hardcore style of playing (think Superchunk, Drive Like Jehu for immediate reference points).  I can’t overstate how great I have always felt this band was.  Their impact may not be immediate because they are not the household name that other well-known bands of that era/style became, such as Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, or Texas Is the Reason.  But they have always been one of those groups that is your favorite bands’ favorite band.  And this should continue that trend.  This new release finds them back in the pocket- vocalist/guitarist Scott Hobart picks up right where he left off with his extremely distinct way of playing and singing (his other ongoing gig for years has been in the country/honky tonk vein) that combines melodic, but angular playing that can open up as big as the sky.  Drummer Paul Ackerman’s playing is incredibly tight and as together as ever, while bassist Byron Collum fills the gaps and I hope to god he still has that weird spinning doo-hickey on his amp that makes it seem like not only is it amplifying his bass but also gathering meteorological data as well.  As far as the songs go they’re great.  Most of the record runs at a similar tempo, which is fine, but it lacks a little of the speed and stop-start precision that made “Purity and Control” such a great tune, or the slow burn that gave tracks like “New Orleans” such emotional heft.  What you do get is 10 excellent tracks that are Giants Chair through and through, and that’s an extremely rare thing because there’s only one Giants Chair and it’s been over two decades since they released any music.  If there’s any big noticeable change it’s that while many of their lyrics in the past felt a little more cryptic while still yanking at the heartstrings, things here feel a bit more direct and intentional, even slightly political at points.  And maybe part of that is just being in your 20’s versus your 40’s and having life a little more figured out.  But while many reunions kind of just go through the motions while pining for that long-lost youthful recklessness and coming up as a somewhat bland copy of themselves Giants Chair never got huge by any means and remained humble.  They remained a band’s band.  And I think part of that relieves them of pressure to have to come back with something big.  They just came back as themselves and wrote some great music to go with it.  What more could you ask for?  I know I personally never thought I’d hear from them again.  I’m exceptionally glad I did.
*Currently available as digital only, vinyl coming soon.  (Caulfield Records)

GRIZZLOR, “Coolness Factor 6” 7”
It’s been a minute, but Grizzlor have returned with a quick, four song 7” about leaving Earth because it sucks, being turned away by aliens because humans suck, and space nukes.  It’s all sci-fi thrashy, trashy noise rock that only Grizzlor can do.  While some of their material errs towards repetitive, riffy, sludgy heaviness this one is all quick blasts of their faster, punker side.  Basically anything Grizzlor does is great and this is no exception.  If you liked them before you’ll be perfectly content with this as well.  What could possibly go wrong (aside from space nukes and shitty aliens?).  Paranoid ramblings, gigantic bass, meaty guitars, and fast beats.  Get weird. (Learning Curve Records)

METZ, “Automat”
“Automat” collects Metz’s early material- their first couple of independently released 7”s, as well as a couple comp tracks, and up to the “Eraser” 7” they released a couple years back.  You get to see them evolve through this. Oh, and the record comes with a bonus 7” with three different, very random covers on it- Randy Numan, The Urinals, and Sparklehorse (talk about varied influences).  From the get-go of “Soft Whiteout” it’s pretty clear the path that Metz chose to take was one where noisy, yet catchy and abrasive punk collided with pop hooks hidden under all the cacophony.  And they’ve really nailed down their niche there.  But there’s some early material where they gave some heavy and ugly noise a whirl too, as evidenced on “Lump Sums” (which is a fucking awesome song, but on a bit of a different path than Metz ended up taking).  “Ripped On the Fence” messes around with a long, drawn out spacey ending that bears some semblance to Sonic Youth’s more blissed-out moments.  But from there you get a couple demo takes of well-known tracks that made it on to full lengths, their Sub Pop 7”, as well as the aforementioned “Eraser” 7” (one of their best songs period).  While there’s 12 tracks on the record (and the other 3 on the bonus 7”) this is a somewhat abbreviated collection as the songs from the Mission Of Burma split, the Sub Pop 30 7”, and the John Reis-collaboration record are all absent.  I would suggest seeking those out too.  Fuck it, just really get anything Metz-related to be honest.  They’re an excellent band and if you get a chance to see them (which shouldn’t be tough, they tour constantly) do it and get blown the fuck away by how incredible they are live.  (Sub Pop)

TORCHE, “Admission”
It’s Torche.  You know exactly what you’re getting.  Sure, there’s some variation.  Sometimes they work the cement mixer falling off a cliff angle and other times it’s pop songs tuned to ‘wrecking ball’.  But you always know it’s them.  Five full lengths and a solid decade-plus into their time as a band Torche not only have a sound that is completely ‘them’, but their albums have kind of a similar arrangement as well- strong opener, a couple upbeat and catchy songs, introduce some ‘bomb’ string heaviness (this record’s “What Was” compared to “Restarter”s “Undone”), a couple more catchy songs, one track that goes slow and uses that bomb string for most of the song (this album’s “Infierno” vs. “Meandrathal”s title track).  It sort of feels like the band is staying in their lane a bit and giving the fans what they want.  There’s nothing wrong with that either.  Torche don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  They do what they do extremely well and it’s always pleasing, so I’m sure no one is asking them to change it up greatly.  The only real switch up here is bassist Jon Nunez switched from bass to second guitar, while Eric Hernandez, frontman for hometown pals Wrong has come in to fill the bass spot.  It’s really a no-brainer as far as replacements go.  And for Torche to be Torche is really a no-brainer either.  Luckily, no else can do it the way they do, so may as well let them keep being themselves.  I’m not going to complain.  (Relapse)

VICTIMS, “The Horse and Sparrow Theory”
Victims have been a band for ages.  They have a lot of material out.  Every time they release something new I think, ‘oh, they’re still a band?’  That probably has to do with living in the United States and they’re a European band, so it’s not like I’m keeping tabs on all their activity because most of it happens several thousand miles away from me.  That all being said, this new album has some cool artwork and continues to blend their d-beat/hardcore/somewhat doom-y punk into a vitriolic stew that is difficult to not want to at least repeatedly punch the roof of your car as you’re steadily increasing speed on the highway and cursing other motorists.  I can’t recall, in all honesty, the nuances of their previous work, and how it stands up to this.  But it’s an enjoyable listen nonetheless and takes many cues from groups such as From Ashes Rise, who also were quite good at not just playing d-beat (adding various melodies and tempos to their sound), but were primarily considered a d-beat hardcore band.  I could kind of do without the lengthy mid-point track, which is mostly a sample of some government goon discussing, at length, how global warming has contributed to war and refugee crisis’s.  And while the vocals remain gruff and bellowing, fitting accordingly with the music, they deter very little from ‘dude with a low howl doing this the entire record’.  They’re minor gripes for an otherwise good hardcore record.  (Relapse)

Monday, July 22, 2019


      Outside of bands I have been in there are not that many groups that I can say I was there from day one, and again, at the end.  I mean, I’d feel like a total interloper if that were the case for tons of bands.  A couple of those groups were ones I did records for and Oak and Bone were one of those groups.  I booked their first show for them, got them hooked up with some other bands I thought they would get along with, helped book them some shows outside of town here and there, and released their records, and stuck around until they folded.
            Part of that association stemmed from getting to be pretty good friends with their singer Weston Czerkies.  I distinctly remember the winter we met- February of 2005.  It was an insane week because I had gone on my first date with my future wife and we ended up hanging out the whole week pretty non-stop.  And within that whirlwind of doe-eyed lovey-dovey gooiness a DIY venture was started by another friend looking to start a volunteer-run venue.  They had access to a building and a collective crew of interested parties was assembled to help out.  One of those kids was a young Weston Czerkies.  He definitely had a strong interest in DIY ethics and over the next year or so I could see that he was pretty committed to participating in this stuff through various bands, putting out zines, booking shows, and so forth.  We teamed up on a couple shows and eventually he mentioned Oak and Bone getting started.  When he gave an inclination of what some of the band influences were I was pretty much on board.  Without hearing them I booked their first show with Young Widows and it ended up being a good fit.  Not long after Weston moved into my house and lived there for a few years.  By then I had released Oak and Bone’s debut 7” and an LP was not far off.
 That pretty purple vinyl and a wild live photo insert to the record
            Another change occurred between that 7” and LP- my man Ted Niccoli, who had been in No Idols with me for our entire run, joined the band and had a considerable impact upon their sound and writing.  The songs that came together for that LP were nothing short of awesome and it remains one of my favorite records released by this label. 
            However, due to horrendous luck on the road, things got a little stressful for the guys and eventually they split up.  It’s a shame because they were truly on to something with that band.  It was definitely something that hadn’t really been done in our town so it left a mark, no question.
            A little after the dissolution of Oak and Bone Weston moved to the Ithaca, NY area (a good move, it’s a great town) and got very into the noise scene and has recorded and performed under several monikers (please don’t ask me what differentiates one from the other, I cannot tell), as well as operating a fairly prolific noise label (Prime Ruin).
            But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.  We’re here to talk about the fucking awesome LP, their only full length, by the mighty Oak and Bone.  And any chance to chat with my old pal Weston is a welcome opportunity.  So here you go.

I’m going to apologize in advance because I’m not usually a very good interview subject.

Oh, I figured as much

(laughs) I figured that you’d figure that!  I figure you’ll probably do some editing with this as well?

Maybe.  When I was writing out questions for this I imagined your answer being ‘I don’t know’ for half of them!  So I thought, ‘I’ll give it a try anyway!’ (laughs)

(laughs) I’ve been trying to prepare too!  I actually pulled out my folder of flyers from Oak and Bone shows and I used to do itineraries for every tour we went on.  So I have this pile of disorganized flyers, but very organized lists of every place we were going, and the number of who we were staying with and shit like that.

That’s good!  I mean, someone in your band had to be organized with that stuff, right?

Exactly.  That was really the only thing I contributed- pushing the guys to be like, we have to tour, we have to play shows, we have to be a band that people can see.

Let me ask you this- do you keep a list of how many shows you played?

I could probably figure it out.  Even now I could probably figure it out because I have a flyer from almost every show we played.

What’s your roundabout guess?

I don’t know.  See, there’s your first ‘I don’t know’.  But I would like to figure it out.

So I got the Oak and Bone history from John when I talked to him about the 7”.  But how about your take about how you fit in with the band and where you were coming from.

Yeah, so Jon and Drew have been close forever, and in bands forever.  But I think around the time the band got started me, and Drew, and Chris Putzer (original bassist) were all going to school at OCC (Onondaga Community College).  We were some of the only hardcore kids going to school there and we would hang out sometimes.  We all wanted to  start a band, so we talked about it, and the we had a practice in Chris’ parents basement.  It was kind of whatever and definitely needed something besides a bassist, a singer, and a drummer, which is where Jon was the obvious choice for the role of guitarist.  And then it just took off from there.  The songs were really easy to write I think for those guys.  It was such good music that it was really inspiring to me to yell for and write some words for.

I remember you mentioning having some issue with your lungs and my thought was, ‘can this dude do this band?’

I had Spontaneous Pneumothorax when I was 16, which just apparently means that you build up these weird little holes in your lungs, like these air pockets build up and puncture holes in your lungs.  And I had a ton of them.  It happened in both my lungs several different times.  I had surgery on one of them, but by the time this band started I was around 19 or 20 and I think the last time I had an issue with lung collapse was when I was 18.  So by then I was feeling pretty good.  It was never a lung capacity thing, like if I was running, or doing something physical.  My lungs would just drop.  It would come out of nowhere.  One time I was walking through the mall I just felt this pressure and sudden loss of air to the point where I almost passed out.  Scary stuff.  But apparently common in tall, skinny young dudes.  That’s what I was told anyway.

How did they fix that?  Did they have to patch your lungs up?

I don’t know what they did.  I was 16 when I had the surgery so I don’t really remember exactly what happened.  They definitely put a tube in my side that was connected to some suitcase with some weird fluid shit, and they definitely pulled it out of me when I was awake and fully conscious.

That sounds like the basis of an Iron Lung record or something.

Yeah, it does sound kind of Iron Lung-y.

How would you describe what Oak and Bone did, or what you played? 

I think it was kind of like a heavy hardcore hybrid when we started that became a lot more stoner-y and weed-rock influenced as time went on.  It was an influence of those products upon those gentlemen.
But, for me, it was a little different than those guys because I was always from a bit more of a straight-up DIY hardcore background.  So I just took those DIY hardcore aspects to the band and tried to make things happen all the time, and from an artistic standpoint a lot of the lyrical content was pretty serious, or personal…  I don’t want to say a generic hardcore content, but pretty much all hardcore bands have the same realm from which they pull their content, and I would say I was no different in that regard.

Did you have much in the way of musical input, or songwriting input?

I think so, even though I don’t know how to play a single fucking instrument.  Even now that I do make music…  (laughs) ‘music’, in quotation marks.  I could never articulate what I thought we should do, but I would offer  my opinion if they were working on something, or something wasn’t quite right, or a ‘which do you like better’ sort of thing.  They mostly just figured it out and I watched them figure it out.  They knew what they were doing.  I chimed in here and there.  I never really had specific goals for songs, other than ‘they should sound good.’

That’s a strong opinion my friend.

(laughs) ‘I think music should be good!’  And I don’t want to hear music that is bad!

How did Ted (bassist) contribute to the direction and the sound of the band once he joined?

I think Ted was the missing link in so many ways.  His bass sound and playing alone would have been more than enough to make our band be, and sound, so much better.  But he also did so much heavy lifting in terms of songwriting.  He had really good ideas, and really good input into how the songs went.  I think you can tell, just from listening to the seven inch, into the LP.  The progression is just so obvious in terms of songwriting.  Those guys just clicked.  And he helped to push and pull them into the right directions.

For the LP you guys resurrected some older songs and re-worked them a bit, as well as writing a bunch of new stuff.    Was there an intent to use some of those older songs, or parts, and improve them, or was it more of being pressed for time to write a record?

I think it was really just that we liked some of those old songs and they needed a little updating.  Like they didn’t get the recording that they deserved, or a song didn’t get the audience that it deserved, which is why we re-recorded them.  We totally stood by them.  Parts needed a musical tune up here and there.

Right, because those were demo songs from the beginning of the band.

I know what you’re talking about. I have to look at the record to make sure… “Dust Cult”.  That’s the one.  The basis of that song is from our demo, and I think Jon felt really attached to that song.  It might have been the first song we wrote as a band.  There were riffs in there that he really wanted resurrect and give attention to.  So we sort of just re-wrote it and that’s what became the last track on the LP.  It’s definitely way better than the demo.

And the lyrics for “Acres” were taken from the demo too I believe.  The music is totally different, but the lyrics are the same.

Hmmm…  is it?  Maybe we re-worked two songs off the demo?  Man, I should probably go and listen to this record again, huh?

The live outro was never recorded, which I think is just a shame.

Yeah, I think that was intended to be just a ‘played live’ sort of thing.  There’s another song or two that we never recorded, but would play live.  We just didn’t think they would fit on the record.
 recording the LP with Brad Gorham

Brad Gorham from Engineer recorded the LP, but he did it at Moresound.  He was a little new to recording at this point.  Did he offer to do it?  Or did you specifically want him to record the album?

Here’s a good one where I don’t remember.  I know we were pretty set on Moresound and the recording happening there.  But I can’t recall if he offered, or if we chose him as an engineer.  I mean, it totally made sense.  I really wanted someone who understood heavy music and had seen us play before to record us.  We wanted someone who knew what we were like live.  Having someone who didn’t know that didn’t make sense.  So having Brad made sense in that regard.
We were probably trying to save money too.

So the record comes out and then what?

I think we planned a tour, not a big one, maybe a week long.  I think we lost our van right before that.  It’s hard to keep track of all the vehicles we fucking destroyed.  We lost Jon’s minivan.  And then we bought a trailer and broke that trailer somehow.  And then we got a van, which took us on tour for a bit, and then when we went down to Florida on tour, which was before the record was recorded.  We totally wrecked the engine going down there.  We sold what was left of it and journeyed back.  I don’t remember what the deal was with us canceling our tour.  We weren’t going to make it in the first place.  I think we were going to borrow someone elses van, or something like that, and it didn’t quite happen.  We mostly stuck to playing shows around upstate New York where we could rely on knowing people who had the kind of gear we would need to borrow, and then rolling up in two or three cars.
We had something like two or three vans, and a couple trailers we went through.  We left quite a bit of wreckage in our wake.
 Oak and Bone with future beard-y bassist Rob Button watching front row

What led to Ted leaving the group?  Rob Button briefly came on to play before the band split up as well.  How did he come into the picture?

I think he was just ready to peace out and do something different.  Otherwise, there was no reason.  We were pretty bummed about all the tour stuff that had fallen through, and kind of sitting on this record.  But as a band we still wanted to do stuff and maybe save up some money and figure out how to play shows again.  I think you ought to call up Ted and ask him!  He left for Portland to do shit out there and I know he was really excited to work at a brewery out there and do cool Portland guy stuff.
As for Rob we just needed a bassist.  So bassist number three, who’s it gonna be?  And Rob was the most solid choice we had in terms of someone who is available and has a lot of energy, and commitment to being in bands, and is a good bassist.  So, we thought, ‘this makes sense, let’s try out Rob!’
I think Jon and Drew were a little hesitant because they were like, ‘he’s straight edge right?  I don’t know if that’s going to work!’  But I convinced them he was fine.  He wasn’t going to edge stomp them or anything.  That type of person barely exists and definitely not in Syracuse punk. (laughs)
So we tried out Rob, it worked out pretty well, we played some shows, but we just sort of lost a bit of that momentum after that, after Ted left.  He had become such an integral part of our songwriting that things died back a bit after that.  He was also a pusher for us doing stuff and being active as a band.  With a little less of that influence we lost some momentum.

Discuss the Southern Lord call.  Elaborate prank, or possibly real deal?

I think it’s pretty real deal.  Jon would have the final word on this because I believe he did call them back and talk to them.  But the call from Southern Lord came probably like two weeks after we announced that we were going to break up.  We were talking about it, I was pretty certain I was going to move, and it just seemed alright that we all could do other bands as this band slowly started to fall apart.  So we thought, let’s go out on a high note.  I’d rather break up at our peak instead of stick around and tread water.  So yeah, two weeks after that break up announcement Jon gets a call from..  what’s his name from Southern Lord?

Greg Anderson?

Yeah!  I was going to say ‘Gary’

(laughs) ‘Hi, this is Gary from Southern Lord!’

So Gary from Southern Lord calls us up and is like, ‘Hey!’ (in nasally voice)  I wish his name was Gary.  Maybe it is his real name and he just changed it to Greg because it sounded harder.
So fuckin’ Greg calls up Jon and leaves him a message saying, ‘hey man, this is Greg from Southern Lord.  I heard your band Oak and Bones’ record.  It’s pretty sweet.  We kinda wanna do something for ya, so give me a call.’
So that’s it.  I’m not paraphrasing, that was basically verbatim of what the call was.  So naturally we were all a little skeptical.  It also just so happened that the morning after Jon came over to my house to tell me this and show me the message and I had some friends staying at my place who had played a show the night before.  One of them had worked for that big distribution place that had folded- Lumberjack?  I think we worked for them for a minute and was familiar with these labels.  I asked him if he had ever talked to Southern Lord and he said he had talked to Greg before a few times.  So I asked if that message sounded like him and the way he might offer a band a deal?  He was like, ‘yeah, that sounds about right.’
So I was like ‘fuck’.  I had to think about it a little bit.  But I sort of felt the same way that I did before.  I thought that was really cool, but this is just stupid, shitty timing and it’s a bummer.  We were still in the same situation that we were before.  We didn’t have money to get a van and tour.  And if we did a record on Southern Lord or something they probably would have wanted us to tour.  And even if they didn’t I didn’t think we were at a great point as a band in terms of having ideas for songs for a record.  I mean, at that point, we already had a great record that we wanted everyone to hear.  Did we want to potentially put out an OK record that everyone would hear?  It just didn’t make sense to me.  I think the guys maybe were a little bummed that I felt that way and they sort of wanted to go for it.  Hopefully they aren’t still curing me for it.
I still think there is something to be said about preserving your integrity as a band and realistically what else could we have done?

Looking back on that LP, how do you feel about it now?

Great!  I think there’s always things that I would change, but that’s what listening to your previous work will do.  But I think it’s solid.  I think those songs are sick.  I think Drew’s crazy little drum fills are awesome.  Tons of Jon’s riffs really hit home for me.  I think the quality is good.  I think the process of recording it was so much easier and smoother than all the rickety DIY recordings we had done up to that point.  So it felt like a real pro record.  I think it holds up well.  I think if we recorded it today it would sound just a little different with just how fast recording technology changes.  It might sound a little better.  I really like it as it is.  It’s a unique little piece of Syracuse history, like a unique footnote.

What was the best part of Oak and Bone for you and what was the worst part?

(laughs)  My least favorite-worst part of the band?  I don’t know.  I think they’re both the same thing.  I loved playing shows.  The energy of playing with those guys, even if even if it was a show where no one gave a shit- because outside of Syracuse that was mostly the case, aside from places like Bethlehem, which was always fun.  But the worst part was just not being able to rely on vehicles and shit always breaking down.  The money pit of being a touring band was so, so shitty and disheartening.  It’s a double-edged sword.  Half of that was the best, best possible feeling.  The other half was the worst feeling.

And there you have it.  And, as always, there's a crazy deal happening right now if you want to buy that LP because I'll give it to you for just $5.  That's how we roll.  Get it out of my attic. You'll be better for it.  Digital is only $4Get it HERE.

Monday, July 15, 2019


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.