Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Interview with Joe Brady of SCANNER by Dave Wolff

Interview with Joe Brady, Lead Vocals and Bass Player of SCANNER

The punk band Scanner formed in Pennsylvania in the late 1970s, when the Ramones and the Sex Pistols were becoming part of the public consciousness. What are your memories of those days?
Despite having virtually no scene in central Pennsylvania in the mid-to-late 70s, we lived within an hour or so of Baltimore and Washington D.C., so we quickly became familiar with the great record stores that were getting in all of the latest imports being churned out by the bands of the day (The Damned, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Slaughter and the Dogs, Generation X, The Slits, The Saints, etc.).
By 1979, the “second wave” of punk was just beginning and this is when we formed Scanner after jamming around with various line-ups since around 1976. So, we were in that in-between time, where we had our influences from The Stooges, Alice Cooper, Dead Boys, Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Cramps, Richard Hell, The Fast, etc., but in the D.C./Baltimore scene, which was like our second home by then, the Bad Brains, Teen Idles (soon to become Minor Threat), Faith, Void, Scream, Black Market Baby, and others were beginning to heat up fast!
Also in The U.K. and elsewhere overseas, bands like The Exploited, GBH, Angelic Upstarts, Cock Sparrer, Stiff Little Fingers, Anti Pasti, were releasing their records and coming over to play at the clubs in D.C. and Baltimore, like the 9:30, The Chancery, Psychedelly, and Ontario Theater. We saw a who’s who of every band from the early punk scene parading through the clubs practically every week from 1978 - 83. Like the beginning stages of any music scene, the electricity and creative excitement was off the scale! Everybody was at shows and starting bands.
Meanwhile, back in central PA, we were building a small scene made up of bikers, new music geeks, and various misfits in the Gettysburg, York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster area. A few “bigger” bands like the Dead Boys, Ramones, and the Plasmatics made their way through the area, but most people were still hanging on to the familiar sounds of commercial radio rock. In addition to Scanner, we had a few other outbreaks of punk/new wave by the likes of The Late Teens, The Bodies, The Sharks, Billy Synth, and The Abjects. A few clubs accommodated an occasional punk show, like The Metron and Li’l Joe’s in Harrisburg and The Schoolhouse in Gettysburg, but we mostly did DIY parties and fire hall rentals. With no Internet and no punk rock friendly local record stores, and being in a sprawling rural area, we relied on flyers and phone trees to spread the word. Despite all of that, Scanner still pounds out the noise, 40 years later.
As far as I know, Scanner is the only non-reunion band from our area that has been around for as long as we have been, who still plays and records our own brand of music. And, we have no desire to evolve beyond just basic punk and roots inspired rock and roll. What we are doing is good enough for us.

In how many ways was the punk scene in the US different than England? Having seen the creativity prevalent in both scenes, how would you describe it to someone who wasn’t there?
Fashion-wise, the early punk scenes on both sides of the Atlantic seemed to be offshoots of the glam and mod movements. All of the New York bands, like the New York Dolls, The Fast, etc. were outgrowths of The Stooges and Alice Cooper, with a lot of play with sexual/gender crossover. In the U.K., the glam and mod looks merged, then they added S&M elements and, of course, the safety pins (which the New Yorkers claim as their invention, due to the necessity of holding their clothes together!). But you also had bands like The Jam and Buzzcocks who stuck more to the “Look Sharp” mod-type looks.
If you listen to pre-hardcore punk rock, the music was aggressive, but not really all that fast, except for the Ramones, who absolutely ushered in the maniacally fast, non-stop music, especially in their live shows. They were definitely game changers, influencing how most bands played their shows. The U.K. sound was much more “sing-a-long” with great, anthemic choruses, while being more political and socially conscious for the most part than U.S. bands, and that was carried on to another level within the Oi movement.

What are your thoughts on the debate over whether the Ramones or the Sex Pistols started punk? What arguments have you heard from both “camps” and which ones do you find to be most convincing?
That’s a non-issue with me, because both bands had vastly different approaches and pretty much equally contributed to the way things developed. I think the Ramones were genuinely weird misfits, who were all about the music first, then created a cohesive, cool image for the band, plus they made incredibly good, fast rock and roll songs. I really think that Joey Ramone thought they could be the next big, mainstream rock and roll band. They were the band that really made me want to form Scanner and play original music, rather than just jam around as another bar cover band. In my opinion, the Sex Pistols were about image and persona first, but had enough talent to create some of the best confrontational, powerful, and aggressive sounding music ever made. That, on top of having a great, new, and fresh look, made them a magnet for so many of us who were already functioning outside of the mainstream.
As far as starting punk, I don’t think that can be answered in a cut and dry way. I think the fans and their creativity were just as big factors as the bands themselves. Plus, there were bands and individuals building the scene before the Pistols and the Ramones hit. There were a lot of underground bands, clubs, and performance artists who were slowly opening the doors for the punk scene way early on, but the Ramones and the Sex Pistols were the ones who came along and took advantage of the timing, and had the loudest and best noise at the time to blow things wide open. I don’t want to sound like a politician, but I really can’t point to any one band or city that can claim all of the credit.

In the US there was a band called Death from Chicago who are considered one of the first punk bands. They fused early punk with R&B. We also had artists like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Peel (who was friends with John Lennon). Your thoughts?
Funny you should mention Death. I’ve been posting their music on my Facebook page, to hopefully keep their sounds alive and discoverable to new listeners. A music guru named Howie, who owned a record store near Baltimore called Music Machine Records introduced us to Death way back in the day.
Iggy and the Stooges have always been an influence and inspiration from the very beginning. There have been very few performers or bands to match their pure, “from the gut” power and raw emotion.
I never got into Lou Reed or David Peel very much, but that’s not to say I didn’t like them or their music. I’ve just been in a bunch of other zones when it comes to music.

What did Scanner’s early material sound like, and how well was the band received by the local punk scene of the time?
Scanner music has always, and still is, a mixed bag. We made a conscious effort to not fit into any one genre or sub-genre of punk or rock and roll. We have songs that sound like they are influenced by acts ranging from Ramones, Dead Boys, Sex Pistols, Cock Sparrer, Misfits, Devo, X, and Motorhead, to Nazareth, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and Dick Dale.
Reaction from the punk scene in 1979 - 83 was mixed, because Scanner had one foot in the more rock and roll sound of old school punk (Dead Boys, New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, The Heartbreakers, etc.) and another foot in the burgeoning hardcore and U.K. second wave scenes (Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Exploited, GBH, Abrasive Wheels, etc.). Ultimately, we had a pretty loyal following that got what we were doing. To this day, many of the “kids’ who came to our shows still buy our music and come to our rare live shows!
A very nice development has been that over the years, and up till the present, we have been seeing a growing audience worldwide. This is thanks to the Internet and radio shows, blogs, zines, etc. that are exposing us to fans in countries who otherwise would never have heard of us. We are very surprised and grateful to have been embraced by brand new fans from all over the world. I’ll always get a thrill to hear our music being played on a radio show in South Africa or Japan, or hear that a Scanner song is in heavy rotation in a nightclub in the U.K. It’s very satisfying, especially since we’ve been just slithering along in the underground shadows for so many years. Haha!

What was the club scene in Pennsylvania like when Scanner started? Who was a typical fan of the band, if there was such a thing as a typical fan? Or did you attract listeners of all different lifestyles?
There were a lot of clubs that had live bands all the time, but they were pretty evenly divided between rock and roll cover bands, country, and a little later the occasional new wave cover bands (pretty much played The Cars, Flock of Seagulls, Joe Jackson, etc). Actual punk rock was pretty alien to the area, so we were definitely breaking new ground. Actually, there’s a pretty big biker crowd in the area (York, Pennsylvania), and they pretty much liked us, because of the loud and raw style we had. We started gaining fans that were very young when we did all age shows. They were more accepting of new sounds.

How easy or not so easy was it for a punk band to sign to an underground label and release material? Did bands mostly have to release their material independently?
Virtually impossible in our area. There were no underground labels. Anybody with a studio was hoping to release a big mainstream hit. What we were doing was avoided at all costs.

Name the first releases the band came out with and describe how well they were received.
In 1980 we recorded an A/B single, “Death and Grief and Sorrow and Murder”/”Fight” at Billy Synth’s studio in Harrisburg, PA, which is a long lost cassette that only one person I know of still has. I’ve begged for it for decades, and now that person is also long gone. “Exploding Heads In Harrisburg” (1982) was a cassette release of some originals and some covers recorded at a live show at a club called Li’l Joe’s. That recording is available on Scanner’s Bandcamp page for free streaming and download.

With little to no label help, how did the band go about promoting their material in those days? Did you shop your early releases to record stores in Baltimore and Washington D.C.?
It was all legwork by the band, our guitarist’s wife, Tina, and fans/friends. The main methods of the day were in-store and nightclub visits, mailing out cassettes and band photos, flyers, and of course the top one was selling stuff at shows. We had some cassettes in a few records stores, but we never followed up to see how many, if any, sold. It was all about creating original songs and playing live during those fast and furious four years.

Was the band familiar with punk scenes in New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York? Did you get to perform in those areas to promote your early releases?
We were familiar with what was happening in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York, but only ever played in some dive bars in Philly and Jersey. Looking back, I now realize how bad we were at pushing ourselves into other cities and scenes outside of PA and Maryland. But who knew? We were having a blast carving out our own little scene!

Which of your shows in Philadelphia and New Jersey were the most memorable? How many new fans did the band acquire playing those shows?
It’s been so long ago that I don’t remember how much we increased our fan base. I still do hear from various people from the Philly and New Jersey areas via social media who saw us at many shows in the late 70s – early 80s. However, I remember one show very early on, where we opened for a band called Uncle Ugly and the Bombay Chickens. That was kind of memorable, because both bands were vastly different. We were playing aggressive and dirty punk rock, and Uncle Ugly was playing some pretty accomplished sounding bluesy rock. And another show, I remember some skinhead punks were smashing up a car down the block from the club. Other than that, details are pretty burry.

Did local fanzines help spread word about the band? Which publications do you remember from that period in time?
At the time there were no fanzines in our area. We submitted photos, bios, and cassettes to some in other cities, but never heard back. For all I know, we could’ve been in some, but never knew it!

Did the band make an effort to acquire fanzines from other states through mail order or by traveling? I remember you mentioning being interviewed for Maximum Rock N Roll magazine. Did that interview represent the band well?
Back then I wasn’t very aware of music fanzines, outside of Maximum Rocknroll and Flipside. I knew people were doing them, but I wrongly assumed they were mainly for various local scenes, so we really didn’t pursue them. I’m happy with the coverage we’ve been getting in Maximum Rocknroll, except one reviewer recently implied that we were too old to be doing this stuff. Hmmmm… I hope he’s also telling the same thing to The Misfits, Marky Ramone, Cock Sparrer, The Ruts, etc.!

What is your opinion of Maximum Rock N Roll and its coverage of punk scenes and other events around the world?
I think, especially pre-internet, the Maximum Rocknroll, and others were very valuable in informing fans what was happening in all of the scenes, globally. Now, not so much, since with the click of a button you can find information on bands just about anywhere and hear their stuff. I still like to read their reviews, and see our stuff reviewed there.

In the 1980s punk and hardcore grew in popularity in the U.S. and the genres underwent many changes. There was also the rise of thrash metal in the underground. What changes did you see happening through the decade and how did the band ride them out?
In the early 80s, we enjoyed the explosion of the hardcore scenes. Once again, being so close to Baltimore and Washington D.C. allowed us to be part of a great scene and see so many of the acts of the day from all over the world come through the clubs at the beginning of their runs, like the Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Faith, Void, Youth Brigade, Necros, Effigies, SS Decontrol, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Misfits, you name them!
We also started to see a punk/metal crossover happening with bands like Agnostic Front, S.O.D., GBH, Exploited, English Dogs, etc.
With all of that happening, Scanner just kept chugging along, doing what we do and the way we want to do it. However, we did occasionally grab some of the influences happening with all of the metal/thrash/crossover. We put together some songs that definitely had that vibe, but ultimately, we came back to our true, simple rock and roll selves. We knew we weren’t a thrash band, so we left that to the “experts”. Haha!

Did the band have a chance to visit CBGB at any time during the 80s? As the club no longer exists I wondered if you wanted to talk about any memories you had of it.
We visited CBGB’s when another band from our area played there, but Scanner never got the chance. It’s common knowledge now, but at the time, I was surprised that it was a typical shithole bar, but you could feel the electricity, probably because in the back of our minds, we knew what was happening there!

How do you feel about the eviction of CBGB by the Bowery Residents Committee? Do you think the venue could have continued supporting new talent around the time it was forced to close, or had its time come and gone?
I have mixed feelings about CBGB’s. I think it’s time had come, financially, but I think many of the bands who became millionaires could’ve come up with a preservation fund to keep it open as a venue for unsigned acts.

When you visited New York, did you get a chance to visit other clubs? What clubs in Jersey and Philly were active at the time?
We didn’t visit other clubs in New York back then. I forgot the names of all of the dive bars in New Jersey and Philly way back then. However, we saw many shows in 1979 – 81 at The Tower Theater in Philly, and Emerald City in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The Plasmatics show at Emerald City was a near riot, because you had punks and weird music fans, and crowds of frat boys, jocks, and rednecks who only came to see Wendy’s tits and get into fights!

Were you hoping to achieve aboveground recognition in the 80s or did you prefer to continue building a career from the grassroots?
I don’t think we ever expected to achieve mainstream recognition for the kind of stuff we were doing. It was kind of weird in the early 80s, because we were pretty much winding down with live shows, feeling at the time, we gave it a go and it was time to move on and start some other music projects. Even though Scanner was kept alive all these years in one way or another, Junnie also went on to form a cow-punk band called the Trailer Park Cowboys, who enjoyed some local success for several years. I moved to Pittsburgh and jammed around with a few outfits, but settled in recent years into a horror rock band called Losers After Midnight and we still record songs and make videos regularly.
All the while, we kept Scanner going, and the Scanner sound has always stayed pretty much the same – sort of 70s punk/roots rock and roll, using a mix of many of our music influences over the decades: 50s rock and roll, 60s garage, and 70s hard rock and punk. And, with the recognition we’ve been getting over the last decade, even though we are pretty old guys, we feel like new life has been breathed into the band and we have at least a few more releases and some live shows left in us!

What are the most memorable releases Scanner came out with in the 80s? Are any of them still available in one format or another?
The Scanner songs that most people mention from back in the 70s and 80s are “Fight”, “Death and Grief and Sorrow and Murder”, “It’s a War”, “Pornography”, “You’re Out of School”, “Biker”, and “Getcha to Burn”. Our live “Exploding Heads in Harrisburg” cassette from 1982 is available for free on Scanner’s Bandcamp page at: Many of our songs from the early 80s have also been recorded in the studio over the years and are available on the Scanner Bandcamp page.

At how many different studios has the band recorded over the years? Is there a particular studio you favored over the others?
For Scanner, there were only two studios that we used – Billy Synth’s Harrisburg studio and Ken Matson’s Sound Works studio in Hanover, PA. I loved working with Ken at Sound Works, because he “got” us, and was able to accurately reflect our sound and any ideas I had for production. Sadly, Ken has closed Sound Works to pursue his technical career full-time, so we are looking at recording our next album someplace else. To tell you the truth, I barely remember Billy Synth’s studio, except that he was a really nice guy.
For Losers After Midnight, we only record at Dave Granati’s Dave World Studio near Pittsburgh. Dave is a great guy, and I wouldn’t record Losers’ music anyplace else!

Does “Exploding Heads in Harrisburg” generally capture the essence of the band’s live show? How would you describe it?
We were never shy about wearing our musical influences like a badge. We mixed up the original stuff with covers of songs by Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Cock Sparrer, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Dead Boys, etc. We still like to keep the sounds of our influences and inspirations alive, and we included some of those covers on our studio albums as well.

How long has Losers After Midnight been active? How many audio releases and promotional videos do they have out altogether?
Losers After Midnight was formed in 2014, and is a collaborative studio project by me on lead vocals and bass; Memphis Mike Metzger (Memphis Mike and the Legendary Tremblers) on guitar; and George Borden (Aftershok) on drums. We also have vocal contributions by Canadian female hardcore band, Pantychrist, and goth singer, Julie Lynn from the Pittsburgh band, Devilz in the Details. The Losers have videos on YouTube for the songs “Pterodactyl Attack” and “Axe Murderer”, and we have twelve tracks that have been put together in one release that is available on CD Baby.

When were “Pterodactyl Attack” and “Axe Murderer” uploaded to Youtube? Is your release on CD Baby official or just a collection of tracks gathered for an unofficial upload?
“Pterodactyl Attack” and “Axe Murderer” were uploaded to YouTube in 2014 and 2015. The CD Baby release is just all of the singles we recorded put into a collection, so they are all in one place.

Does Losers After Midnight perform often? Where has the band appeared recently and how do the shows generally go?
Losers After Midnight is primarily a recording band. We only played out once at a club for a birthday party. It was at a bar called Howlers in Pittsburgh in 2016. There’s a very short clip of us playing Pterodactyl Attack at the party. Just look on YouTube for “Losers After Midnight, LIVE. MIKESMAS 2016!”

When Scanner continued through the 90s and 2000s, were punk fans from local and national scenes receptive to your style? The meaning of punk had changes a lot previously and was still changing in those decades. How do you account for your longevity?
Actually, as the years and decades went by, we found that younger audiences were beginning to discover and appreciate bands like us that were a part of the original scenes of the 70s and 80s. We’ve been surprised and pleased that newer audiences are embracing our noise. A substantial percentage of the people who are listening to our music these days are in their teens and 20s. Then of course, we also have the nostalgic-minded older crowd, who likes and relates to our old school style.
I can also attribute much of our success during the last decade to the Internet, which has opened up the entire world to us. Our music is being played everywhere, and we hear from people from practically every state in the U.S. and most countries around the world. Our simple, fun, and rocking style seems to have a broad range of appeal, and at our ages and stages in our musical journey, we are loving this new recognition!

Which of your releases from the 90s and 2000s are personal favorites and what are your reasons for most preferring them?
I love our whole “One foot in the grave, and more pissed than ever” album, because it’s updates of all of the original songs that we wrote in 1978-82, plus our often-played cover of the Dead Boy’s classic, “Sonic Reducer”. Even thought everybody and their brother has covered Sonic Reducer by now, when we were playing out back then, the song was still fresh and virtually unknown to most audiences. Another favorite is our “Membrane Men” song, which is about a 1960s monster kid who grows up and is haunted by creatures from one of his childhood toys. I had that toy as a kid (Mattel’s Strange Change Machine from 1967), and had a blast writing and performing the song. Even if you never heard of that particular toy, the song is great fun for just about anybody who likes weird and crazy scenarios in their music.

Discuss the band’s latest release and how well it has been received since it came out.
Our last album was called “In Your Head”. It was a five song EP that came out in July of 2018, and has been one of our best-received releases. Most tracks from the album are in heavy rotation on both Internet and FM radio stations around the world, including the U.K., Australia, South Africa, and many states around the U.S. “In Your Head” was a very personal album for me, because the songs are about lots of strong influences and elements that were a part of my formative years. But I’m sure many other will relate to it. I wrote about the dream-like effects of vintage TV shows on a wide-eyed kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, going to the funny car drag races back in the day, and letting go of negative experiences that have accumulated in a person over the years.

How deeply does “In Your Head” explore the experiences of your youth? Are the lyrics written in a way to make them relatable?
Like mostly everyone else in the world, I’ve had lots of negative experiences and can be haunted by ghosts from the past, but I try to approach that stuff with positive energy, and as a result, I wrote “Never Go Back” as sort of an exorcism.
“Big Daddy Dragster Rock and Roll” is a fun look at the great days of going to the drag races in the 60s and 70s. Coincidentally, Junnie’s wife, Tina, had two brothers who were prominent and champion drag racers back when I hung out at U.S. 30 in York, PA back in the day. I didn’t know Junnie and Tina then, but her late brothers’ names were very familiar to me. So, I decided to dedicate Big Daddy Dragster Rock and Roll to Bob and Mike Metzger in our video, since they were part of those great times.
“Frankenstein’s Flivver” is just a fast, fun rock and roll tribute to old monster movies and the great monster-related toys and model kits of the day. “TV Light” is the heartfelt song I mentioned about that feeling, especially as a kid, of wanting to go inside the TV and be a part of one’s favorite old shows, like Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, Bonanza, Brady Bunch, etc.

Was it comfortable to bring so many personal matters into the album? Was it a cathartic experience in some ways?
It was very comfortable. The messages and subjects are handled in a very positive way – “The search is over and I crushed all of my fears… Just when I think they’ll bring me down, I find my feet firmly on the ground…” Most of the subjects are just fun memories and things I enjoy writing about. Much of the time, I feel like a kid again, just creating and playing around with ideas. It can always have a bit of a cathartic effect when one expresses themselves, so yes, I felt a bit of a release when writing and performing the songs.

Having been active for about forty years, will you be able to continue finding subject matter to write lyrics about?
I tell Junnie all the time that I think I have over eight hundred song ideas floating around in my head. I have a wealth of experiences and influences from which I can draw to write many more two to three minute ditties!

How long do you expect Scanner to remain active as a band? How relevant would you say the band is today?
Realistically, I think we have a few more releases in us. As along as we are having fun with it, that’s the primary relevance to me. If other enjoy what we do, that’s just an extra joy!

-Dave Wolff

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