Thursday, September 20, 2018

Interview with Sean of EXAMINE by Dave Wolff

Interview with Sean of EXAMINE

What are the origins of Examine and how long have the band members been involved in the New York Hardcore scene?
Examine started in 2015. We had all known one another from other hardcore bands we had been in. I had been in Resistance back in the day and I’m 2015 I was in On The Offense. OTO had just broken up and I wanted to start something new, so I hit up Gil, whose band Vexed was kind of at a standstill and asked him if he wanted to hook up and see what we could come up with. He was down to do it, I booked studio time, and the day before we jammed I still didn’t have a drummer. So I asked Shuffles who had been in Abject! and Close To The Edge to help out and fill in. So after a few jams we came up with a few songs and we were all digging it. I hit up my friend Mike who had played bass in Olde York, Sainam and On The Offense and he liked the sound we were doing. So he came aboard and Shuffles became our full time drummer.
I first got into the NYHC scene around 1986, and the other guys came in through the ‘90’s. 

Which local clubs have you and the others in the band attended? Were there any clubs where the band members met or did you know one another outside the clubs?
I don’t think there are any local clubs that at least one of us hasn’t attended, haha. CBGB’s was my Sunday church. Then places like Coney Island High, Castle Heights, Pyramid, Wetlands. And in the past recent years there’s been Hilltap, Parkside, Lucky 13’s, and The Grand Victory. I don’t think any of us met hanging out in clubs. We’ve all been in bands for a while, and I know I met the guys just from whatever band I was playing in ended up playing on a show with bands they were in, that’s how we all became friends. 

How did you first hear about the hardcore scene, and do you remember the first show you went to? What about your first show experience convinced you to continue going and why have you been a part of the scene as long as you have?
I first heard of Hardcore through my cousin Stacey. She is a year or so older than me, and we went over to their house for something or other. She sneaks me and my brother into her room and played us “I Saw Your Mommy...” by Suicidal Tendencies, and we we’re “Holy Shit!!!” Then I had a friend named Sal who was into Stormtroopers Of Death, and that’s where I first heard of New York Hard Core, not so much S.O.D. themselves, but the scene. After that I started buying as many Hardcore records as I could. I also remember some metal magazine doing a feature on the best bands out of NYC, and it featured Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. What sealed the deal for me was listening to WSOU back in the day, and I remember they came back from a break and played ‘We Gotta Know” by the Cro-Mags, That was it. When I heard that intro I was hooked, and knew I found my place.
The first Hardcore show I went to was a Sunday Matinee at CBGB’s. I don’t remember all the bands on the bill, it was probably my friend’s band Bustin’ Out and Bad Trip. It was just how really cool and down to earth the bands were. Everyone you met wasn’t like a big rock star that hung out backstage during the show. I remember seeing all these guys that were in my favorite bands, just hanging out front of these shows and being mad cool. And most of those guys are the exact same way today. Some of the best in the game have zero ego and will always say what’s up to people. So you became part of it, not just a spectator. You sang with the bands, you chilled with the bands, you contributed in your own way… whether it was starting a zine, or taking pictures, or drawing flyers… whatever. It was an inclusive thing and you were part of it. That’s why I’m still here, Hardcore is the realest of the real, and NYHC is who I am. Many of those people I met when I was in my late teens, are still my friends to this day. 

How many changes have you witnessed in hardcore and underground music in general, for good and bad? Does Examine reflect these changes in any way?
Social Media is something that has had an enormous effect on Hardcore and any underground art form nowadays, both good and bad. On the plus side, anything underground can reach millions of more people today than it ever had back before Social Media. It’s amazing when you see how far and to what corners of the earth Hardcore has spread. My friends were all just a bunch of kids from Queens, and now a bunch of them are doing World Tours, bringing their music to people who it really means something to and are really affected by it. It’s incredible to see. On the negative side of that though, I see a lot of people not actively, physically participating. Before Social Media you HAD to hang out to get merch, see shows, meet people, find out who is playing where and when. And when you hung out you would be exposed to new bands, new people. You spent the whole day at CB’s, so you watched all the bands, not just the headliner. Now you can be part of it and never leave your room. You can buy merch online, watch You Tube videos, watch whole shows on the computer etc. People jump onto Facebook and talk shit like I’ve never seen before, saying things that you could never get away with back then because you had to be physically present, and you had to be physically prepared to back up whatever shit you were talking. And there is definitely a trend nowadays of people trying to “buy” old school credibility. There are people that were born well after 1988, that will eat up anything they can about the earlier years just to feel like they were part of it. They’ll only come out when the established bands are playing, they’ll pass on a free demo from a newer band but buy some re-re-re issue of some older record for $30. Some people are so concerned about being part of what was, that they miss everything that is going on now. New bands get pushed by BNB, ILL ROC, Pissed Off Radio, In Effect etc, etc, etc… and still many people are just not interested. I don’t think EXAMINE reflects the changes, but we’re definitely affected by it. It serves as a good reminder to us that you gotta do this music for yourself. It is kind of freeing to not worry about going over well, or sounding like this or that. We can just relax and write what we want and how we want. 

Despite the negative influence social media has had on the scene when it comes to people actually going to shows, do you still see turnouts when attending?
At the bigger shows yeah the turn outs are amazing. But for the more local bands/shows it’s going to be a hit or miss. I know people that won’t walk three blocks from their house to see a free show with ten bands, but will drop $40 on tickets, plane fare, and a hotel to go three states away to see a festival. When we play local shows with bands that we’re cool with, it’s always a blast. But like I said in NYC you don’t see a lot of people coming out and supporting the newer up and coming bands. 

Is that down to earth feeling you got from shows still part of the scene?
Absolutely, that’s definitely still there regardless of the size of the show. The same OG’s that were hanging out in front after their show back in the days are still hanging out front now. And it’s funny how they have no egos, yet some of the newer bands have massive egos. Every show you walk away with a couple of new friends. 

Something I’ve asked several interviewees is how they felt about CBGB being evicted, and large companies exploiting its memory one way or the other
Losing CBGB’s sucked, for me especially because it had personal meaning to me like it did so many others. But I guess living in NYC you come to expect that as a byproduct of gentrification. And it really sucks to see the smaller venues close up as well. The people at the Grand Victory had that running pretty good for a while and they eventually had to close shop with the hardcore shows. Part of it is gentrification and part of it is again people not really supporting the smaller/local shows. Unfortunately exploitation is part of the game as well, that’s just a matter of time. I see some knucklehead wearing a CB’s shirt because it’s trendy and I just shake my head. They’ll never understand it, and it’s better that they don’t. And you really can’t knock some of these companies trying to cash in, when many of the people from within the scene are trying to cash in as well, I got mad respect for bands like Madball, Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, Urban Waste, Crown Of Thornz….these bands have been busting their asses non-stop since Day 1, so if anyone deserves a little piece of the pie now that Hardcore is making a little bit of money it’s them. But then you see all these other bands that walked away from it all of a sudden popping back up, re issuing records, re-issuing merch, trying to get every penny from the new kids as possible, they’re no different than Old Navy selling Bad Brains Tee Shirts. 

What personal meaning did CBGB have for you when you were going to shows there?
It was the Mecca for me. That’s where I found who I was. That’s where I found my music, my friends, and my sense of self. It’s like you would go to a matinee and everyone there was either your friend, or was going to be your friend. It was a true sense of unity. 

Have you heard anything about ABC No Rio? I heard they were going to renovate the place some time ago but don’t know what’s going on with it now.
I remember when they first started booking shows at ABC NO RIO. Pretty sure they still book shows but at different venues at the moment. I know Dyanmi and see him from time to time at shows, good people. 

Tompkins Square Park is one of the few locations in NYC still hosting shows, and the admission is free. Which shows there, if any, have you attended recently?
I’ve gone to a few with the not so known bands, I’m not really big on seeing crazy headliner type of shows. I am sorry that I didn’t get to make it to the Dr. Know benefit though. Everyone I know that made it said BnB did an awesome job on the show. 

Have you noticed punk and hardcore making a comeback on Long Island after a dry spell that lasted for years? If so, what bands and venues booking them have you gotten wind of?
Yeah it’s rolling along pretty well on Long Island and we’ve had a chance to play with some really good bands like Live Fast Die Fast and Hangman. I know SBC books a lot of good shows and goes out of their way to put LI bands on bills with NYC bands, which is awesome to mix it up and get bands exposed to one another. I see a lot of shows poppin off at the Amityville Music Hall, a very decent venue.

As far as record outlets go, Long Island lost a handful of them (including Slipped Disc and Empire Records), but some still exist and a Newbury store recently opened in Roosevelt Field. How important are the new outlets and the outlets that are still open?
Record shops always added to the musical experience as a whole, especially underground music. I’d always go to Bleeker Bob’s on the way to CBGB’s and pick up whatever demos I could grab that they were selling. Shops create more of a physical tangible space for the scene. It’s much more tactile then just combing through downloads and streaming.
Do you know of any newer zines people can read to keep up with the scenes in the city and neighboring areas?
I love IN EFFECT and GUILLOTINE. Both of them were around back in the day in printed form and have moved over to the digital forum now.

What local and national fests do you know of that actively support underground music?
The Black N Blue Bowl every year as well as the Diablofest that Danny Diablo does. Those shows take place in NYC and always have a great mix of older bands and newer ones. Then there is the This Is Hardcore Fest in Philly, and I think they still do a Raidfest out of state. 

There have been many documentaries about punk and hardcore on cable TV and social media sites like Youtube. How many have you seen and which of them are the most informative?
I haven’t seen many of them yet, and I doubt I will. I came into it when I did and caught it at a great time. But for me, it’s always been there. It’s a living breathing evolving experience. I try to stay in the present and check out what people are doing now. I’m gonna read Roger Miret’s book and check out Godfathers of Hardcore and Drew Stone’s documentaries once I get some down time. Those are more personal to the old school people and filled with great stories. But as far as far as anything in regards to the scene, I respect the past and the history, but I’m going to concentrate on the here and now. 

John Joseph of Cro Mags and Bloodclot has written and published a book recently. Have you had a chance to read it?
I went back to school two years ago and got hit with a bunch of Intensive Writing courses. So basically for the past few semesters it’s been The Illiad, or Paradise Lost, or Frankenstein or House Made of Dawn. And you gotta remember that I came up with all these bands and heard their viewpoints first hand. Cro Mags and Youth Of Today had a big influence on me exploring vegetarianism and the idea of a more positive self. So a lot of what is getting written about I was lucky enough to be exposed to long before it came out in a book. Nonetheless once my heavy reading for school is finished I’m gonna catch up on some of John Joseph’s books and Roger’s book.

Why do you think bands that were active in the 1980s are still popular three decades later?
Because they are timeless, often imitated never duplicated type of shit. That time and those bands had a profound impact on me and I’m sure so many other people. They kicked down a lot of doors with their musical styles and messages. I guess just everything was aligned perfectly when those bands happened, and the music that came out of it is solid and immortal.

Where does Examine fit into today’s hardcore scene in New York?
That’s something we really don’t think too much about or stress out about. We do what we do and if people don’t dig it we’re cool with that, and if they do dig it then that’s even better. A few of us could have done the whole bringing back the old band thing for some instant cred, but we all wanted to do something different with EXAMINE. We have a kind of open door policy when it comes to writing that we pretty much develop any ideas we come up without ever saying “Oh this isn’t hardcore enough” or anything like that. So I guess that’s what we bring to the scene with our music and approach, kind of pushing boundaries a bit and not getting locked into what a hardcore band “should” sound / act / think like.

Who in the band writes the lyrics and what issues do they address?
So far I’ve written all the lyrics, but we’re gonna be working on some new material that will have lyrics the other guys wrote. I write mostly personal stuff, trying to get out and express what I’m feeling at any given time. I’m a pretty peaceful guy, so when I feel that shifting I grab the pen and paper and start venting to get back to that chill state of mind. So most of the lyrics you read and hear are just me working out and dealing with shit.

How much material has the band released to date, and how well have your releases been received by the scene?
We put out our original Demo and earlier this year we dropped a full length record on Dead City Records. Right now we got a slew of new songs all in various stages of completion and are trying to determine what we’re going to do with them. Some days it’s just going to demo them out, some days it’s an EP or another full length, still unsure about it.
As far as being received by the scene I think overall it’s been positive. I haven’t had anyone tell me that they think we suck yet, but I definitely get a good vibe from people when they see us play out live or have checked out the album. And all in all we have a lot of fun with the band, and it’s always a blast playing live.

Are copies of your demo still available since its initial release?
We actually never made physical copies of the demo, but it was/is available on our Reverbnation Page for free downloading. It’s five songs that our boy Spew recorded for us.

Was your demo produced independently by the band and Spew? What sound were you looking for when putting it together?
Spew has been a great friend for years now and he built a studio in his basement. Guy knows what he is doing and offers a lot of creative input during the recording process. We weren’t really looking for a particular sound outside of “heavy”. Spew has been playing in hardcore bands for years now so he knew exactly what vibe to get.

Name the songs recorded for the demo and explain how satisfied the band was with the results?
There was Foundation, Black Blood, Cowards Die In Packs, Masked Up and Kept Sick. As far as a demo goes we were really happy with the way it came out. Spew and Mike did the mixing and it came out aces. I was of the mind set that it was just a demo and wasn’t expecting it to sound as good as it did.

How recently was your latest full length on Dead City Records released?
The full length was released early in 2018, and yes that was the first release since the demo. We we’re considering just doing an EP but we had enough material to go full boat with it. Dead City Records is run out of Westchester NY and it’s a very DIY type label. Ache, The Krays, No Redeeming Social Value. They also do a lot of merch for Sheer Terror, Murphy’s Law, Killing Time, Breakdown, Caught In A Trap, Billy Club Sandwich etc.

How much promotion has Dead City Records done for your album since it came out? How did you first hear about them?
Dead City has been great. They shoot out like a press kit type of thing to different web sites and webzines. They got the record distributed on the West Coast, Japan and Europe and they hooked up the whole digital media market for us, I-Tunes, Spotify etc.
Shonen who was the drummer in On The Offense used to play in a few bands with John from Dead City. So when OTO recorded our record we went to Dead City for advice and help and they ended up hooking us up. Then when EXAMINE was recording we spoke to Dead City and they put us on board.

Were any songs from the demo re-recorded for the album, or does it host all new material? What is the title of the album and the titles of the songs on it?
All five songs from the demo were re-recorded for the full length. Everything else on the record was new except for the Motorhead cover. The full length is self-titled. The songs on it are Everybody Dies, Foundation, Black Blood, Reina, Cowards Die In Packs, Moving Forward, Walk With Us, By Your Own Hands, Masked Up, Search, Kept Sick, and a cover of Motorhead’s Stay Clean.

What inspired you to cover Motorhead on your self-titled album? What about the song you chose spoke to the band?
Motorhead IS the inspiration haha…. I think with all the modern hardcore bands doing covers of all old school hardcore songs, we figured we’d go back a little further and cover Motorhead. Especially Stay Clean, we really like the thought behind the song of not getting to stuck on anything for too long, and living your life free of the meddling and the distractions other people try to inject into it.

How many new songs do you have completed for another release?
Somewhere in the ballpark of about seven fully completed ones. This summer we all had a lot of family and personal stuff going on, so I ended up writing a ton of new material that we’re going to start working on. We have incorporated four new songs into the set list: Make Them Suffer, Territorial, Buckshot, and Death Reaction.

How soon do you expect to begin work on your next release? Is the band looking forward to it?
We’re gonna be demo’ing some of the songs out by the end of 2018, and taking a fresh listen to them early 2019, and we’ll gauge from that what we’re going to do with them as far as putting them out. And yeah, we’re all kind of biting at the bit to get good sounding recordings of them.

Are there any labels interested in helping distribute the new release at this point?
Dead City Records has always been very supportive of us, so I’m sure whatever we drop next is going to come out through Dead City.

What kind of an impact has hardcore had on popular music, and what do you think its impact will be in the future?
I think starting back with the whole Seattle thing we could see where Hardcore was impacting music. I remember hearing Nirvana for the first time and saying “Pffft, NYHC has been doing that for years already”. And now all these like teeny pop “Hardcore” bands are all over the place except they wear like eyeliner and make up and kind of have a goth/hair band look to them. To each their own you know, but you can definitely see where hardcore has bled through and influenced a lot of what you see now. As far as the future, for better or for worse Hardcore is going to always influence “popular” music and culture. It’s like this, Hardcore is the ultimate stripped down most raw of underground music, for the most part it’s the realest. And anyone that’s ever been into music or fashion or art for commercial reasons, always digs as deep down into the underground as they can to exploit it and sell there more mainstream version of it. So hardcore is always going to inspire many, many people, for many, many different reasons. But the realest hardcore heads are always going to stay true.

Do you feel that pop punk has watered down the genre in the mainstream?
Nah. I think most people that are into Hardcore can smell Pop Punk bands from a mile away and keep clear from them. I don’t really see “Pop” seeping into and effecting Hardcore at all. And maybe there will even be a few people that get turned on to Hardcore via Pop Punk, like back in the days the kids that started off listening to metal via hairbands and eventually found their way to Slayer. 

When you see a documentary about punk and hardcore, how often do those movies miss the point and how often are they spot on?
I couldn’t really answer this because I don’t really watch documentaries about it. I appreciate why someone would make a documentary about Hardcore, but for me, I lived through some of the best years of it. So it’s kind of watching a program about something you experienced firsthand. 

If you were ever to make a documentary on punk and hardcore, what would it be like?
I never really thought about that until you sent me this question, haha. I’m totally lacking any sort of the skill sets it takes to make a film, but if I would make one I’d make it about an old rehearsal studio in Woodside Queens named “The Underground”. It was this little hole in the wall studio in the middle of like an industrial block in Woodside Queens. That was a spot where a lot of bands would jam, hang out, and check out other bands. Real laid back place where I met a lot of friends. I was in a Hardcore band named Resistance back then. Hoya from Madball and Beto from 25 Ta Life were in a band called DMIZE who we got along with practiced there. Ezec from Crown Of Thornz used to practice there with various projects, and there were bands like Fit Of Anger, couple of those guys went on to start Everybody Gets Hurt, Stand Proud, Outburst and tons of others. So we’re talking the latter half of the ‘80’s and a lot of the guys that used to practice there went on to much bigger and better things. That place was the birthplace of a lot of shared creativity from a bunch of teenagers.

What do you hope Examine’s impact on hardcore music will turn out to be? How long does the band intend to continue?
I just hope that people can relate to our music and/or our lyrics in one way or the other. Hardcore is way bigger than individual bands and it impacts us more than we’d impact it. So hopefully people will vibe with what we’re putting out there. We’re gonna continue until its stops being satisfying and enjoying to do. No one is getting rich off of Hardcore music. Even the biggest bands in the game aren’t living free and easy. They all gotta work when they come off tour, busting their asses to feed their families and pay the bills. That’s why if you’re gonna do it, you best be doing it for the love and enjoyment of it. If it ever loses that then we’ll call it quits.

-Dave Wolff

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