The Hardcore Tradition
New York City, 1986 and hard-core can only mean Sick Of it All! Being around for more than three decades they wrote the history of New York hard-core and from CBGB’s to today they have never rested, split up or become untrue to their hard-core and street punk roots. In their thirty years career, they can count eleven albums and a new one on the way at the end of the year, a special 30 years anniversary release with extent booklets and pictures. Sick Of It All are synonymous of hard-core punk and all that it truly represents, they are pioneers and influence for a great number of bands from punk to metal. We spent a sunny afternoon talking to legends Lou and Pete Koller, about what the hard-core scene was then and what it is now, listening to great stories about Tom Araya and Sepultura and crazy stories about a homeless guy with a human head in the bag!
HMA: Do you have new material and planning a new album?
Lou Koller: Yes we do. We’re not sure of the date, the exact date it’s coming out, but November, December-ish. It’s the thirty-year anniversary. It’s a big book, photos, and then …
Pete Koller: Five songs, five brand new songs, then we’ll do a tour to push the book
HMA: What drives and inspires you to write music?
LK: It’s just that we love music. We grew up listening to everything from metal, and then we got into punk and all that, we just love it and we just want to always be part of it. Inspiration comes from anywhere, it could be something we get mad at, something that we love, hearing a new band and you’re like “Wow, that makes me want to write,” because it’s such a good thing, you hear a great album and you’re like, “Yeah, I want to write another album.” Stuff like that.
HMA: Who has been your biggest musical influence?
LK: Oh, God, it’s a combination of a bunch. The big ones, like Motorhead and Black Sabbath, and then Agnostic Front from New York, and, God, who else? A whole bunch like that, it’s crazy.
HMA: Do you think that lyrics are important for an hard-core band, always sending a strong message of protest?
LK: I think in certain way for hard-core it is. In a lot of hard-core, there’s a whole section where it’s a little more about finding family when you don’t have one and stuff like that. The crew, and all that stuff, which is a good part, it’s a good aspect of it, but we feel like doing more political stuff instead, it’s trying to get people’s eyes open.
HMA: Do you find your music is more popular with an older audience than a younger one?
LK: For a few years I think it was a good mix, and then lately I think, I don’t know how many generations it’s been, but they want their own kind of rebellion. I’d say we still get some young kids but not as many as we used to which sucks
PK: It seems in metal the younger kids they see every band, they want to see every band, the old ones and the new ones …But in hard-core it’s like, “No, this is my band.” It’s more of generational, they are missing out. When you go to some metal gigs, you have older people and then very, very young people, in hard-core gigs, you don’t always get many kids there
LK: We did play a festival in Germany, and it was very strange, it was a pop festival and the only other band that was kind of like us was Sum 41. We went on first, on the main stage. It was all kids, and they really got into it That was refreshing , It was very cool
PK: The kids got into it; They started jumping around, yelling what we told them to yell, and having fun. We sold a shit-ton of merch, so they actually liked us.
HMA: That’s great, All these kids listening to Sum 41, it’s just not right, It just needs to stop.
PK: Totally! All the rest of bands were acoustic, pop bands. Really strange festival, but great festival.
LK: Hey, at least we got on.
HMA: Do you ever get nostalgic about the old times? How much do you think the hardcore scene has changed?
LK: I think especially for New York, it’s just that there’s no center anymore, there used to be CBGB’s and even then they also had a club called the Wetlands, and Coney Island High. For us, CB’s was the mecca and the other two were like the satellites that grew out afterwards, and they’re gone. All those clubs are gone now, there’s no center anymore. There are still tons of bands, it’s still a community, but I miss any Sunday you could CBGB’s and just see everybody, it didn’t matter who was playing, everybody was there. It’s still a community, for example what happened was that the guitarist of the Bad Brains had a heart attack and some other health problems, and he had these enormous medical bills, and the Cro-Mags, Token Entry, and the band Breakdown, and Antidote got together at Maximum Penalty, and played a free show in Thompson Square Park, which they set up through the city. They got the stage built, they got all the stuff, and they had a booth for people to donate. About 2,000 came. Free show, 2,000 people going nuts, having fun. They made over 25,000 dollars. That’s more than you make when you charge people to get into a show! It was amazing. The community is still there, but I just miss the center of it. The other thing I would change is, a lot of the younger hard-core bands that we meet, they start out like we did, but they think they’re gonna be rock stars right away and it’s like, “No, we’re not rock stars, we just …”
PK: We’re still waiting to be rock stars!!
LK: We just keep playing, that’s all. They’re like, “Well, man, if we’re not famous…-” Well, If we were like that we would have quit in ’91. We would have never come to Europe and we would have never stayed around.
PK: There is a different vision now for kids. I think the main thing sometimes is be famous; being on TV, being on the internet. Everything now is based on social media.
HMA: Exactly, is more a question of ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ than of the quality of the music. That said do you think there’s actually new blood in hard-core?
PK: I don’t know if some will become huge, but there are a lot of new bands that have the passion. They just go out and play and they kill it. There’s just so many, we have friends from New Jersey called Fuck It, I Quit! They’re not the typical new band, generational hard-core, they just want heavy beat downs. It’s so throwback to really thrashy, a little bit of metal, but just fast and crazy. There’s a lot of good bands out there.
HMA: You were the first hardcore bands to do a full tour with big metal bands like Exodus and Sepultura. Was that your decision and would you do it again?
PK: That was our very first one that we did.
LK: They did that which was cool of them to do it. We were sitting there and the band Annihilator was supposed to be on the tour but they had to cancel. It was only, what, 8 shows? 8 shows down the east coast. We were on the same label, and they asked Exodus “Would you take a hard-core band out?” And they go “Fuck yeah!” They asked us, “Would you go out with Exodus?” We were like, “Why not?”
PK: We did DRI after that, the Bad Brains, and then one of the biggest ones for us was ’91. We went out Sepultura and Napalm Death and Sacred Reich that was a long tour. That was like two months
LK: You know how we got that tour? Sepultura was playing in New York at the CMJ music festival they used to have. They don’t have it anymore. College Music Journal Marathon, they called it. They had a bunch of bands, and then Sepultura came to see us play when we played another show. Then the next day they went to their label, Roadrunner Records, Pete was working in the mail room at Roadrunner. They came in and they were telling Pete how much they loved Sick of It All and what an influence we were on Sepultura, and Pete goes, “If you like us so much, take us on tour,” and they fuckin’ took us on tour! They took us on tour, to their credit. We’ve met plenty of bigger bands than us that are like, “I love you guys, and I love you guys!” Even later years, bands were like, “You were such a big influence on us,” and we’re like, “Take us on tour,” and they’d be like, “Ah, but we’ve got more of a pop crowd now.”
HMA: You have toured with Suicidal Tendencies as well.
PK: One of the best tours together.
LK: It really re-opened people’s ears to us, I guess. We would go to the shows and people would be like, “Yo, I haven’t seen you guys in years!” It’s like, “Yeah, we played this city for the last fifteen years.” It was great. It was a really great tour.
PK: Mike’s a good guy; he really looked out for us.
HMA: When you played with Sepultura was it with Max Cavalera, was it the real Sepultura? Max loves punk and hard-core.
LK: Yes it was, we actually go back a pretty long time with those guys, and they’re like actual friends. We went to the hospital while we were in Brazil to see Andreas’s first born kid; we were there before his family showed up. That was crazy. Now she’s eighteen years old
HMA: What do you think have been the highlights and milestones of your career so far?
PK: No milestones just keep going.
LK: Yeah, there are so many things that were great that, I don’t know, I can’t choose, there’s just too much.
HMA: What’s the craziest thing that happened on the road?
LK: I don’t think I have any really crazy stories. I’m still trying to think of milestones, and I’m like … When we were still on tour … It’s funny for us. We were credited with a lot of firsts, for a hard-core band. We were the first ones who started doing full tours with metal bands. We didn’t just do that, we toured with metal bands and then went out with the biggest punk bands. More poppish punk, like Rancid and all that stuff. We were the first New York hard-core band ever to go into Japan, we were the first to do whatever. Some of the greatest quotes about us that I’ve heard was from Ian Mackaye from Fugazi and Minor Threat fame. Fugazi was, in the ’90s, the ultimate alternative rock band and they were such pioneers and all that. Somebody was asking them, “Man, you go all over the world, you play the farthest reaches of the Earth. How does it feel to be a pioneer?” He goes like, “You know what’s really weird? Every time we go there, kids show up with Sick of It All shirts. They always beat us to every city. That was really great, you know?
PK: Personal milestones I think for us, some real cool shit was when Tom Araya and Kerry King, were watching us in Argentina and having them take us on tour in the U.S. One of my favourite actually my favourite Tom Araya’s story ever, and I’m not dissing any other bands, but we played a festival, Full Force festival in Germany. It was Anthrax, Sick of It All, Ministry and Slayers. We killed it, we had a great show, the audience was really with us, and they were going berserk. As we’re walking off stage, Tom Araya’s was standing there, and he didn’t see all of Ministry standing behind him, and Tom goes, “How the fuck is Ministry gonna follow that?!” I was just like, “Behind you.” But it was really nice, saying that to us
LK: We had the craziest story ever before we were a big band; we were still just a touring-in-a-van hard-core band. We played a show in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, a little hard-core show, there was like three hundred people there, whatever, it was fine. After the show these kids came running around saying, “Yo, there’s a crazy guy saying he’s got a gun and a head in a bag.” We’re like, “Ah, bullshit.” We’re getting our stuff ready, and here come this homeless looking guy with a bag, screaming incoherently, talking, like “Rah, rah, rah,” and we’re like … He said, “I fucking killed her, I’ll kill you too!” We’re like, “You didn’t kill nobody, bullshit!” He goes like this and opens the bag…and there was a fucking head in there! We don’t know if it was a mannequin head, but there was a fuckin’ head in the bag.
PK: It was all wet. The whole bottom of the bag was wet.
LK: We were like, “Holy shit!” We all jumped in the van, we started driving, and as we’re tearing out of the parking lot, 20 cop cars are tearing in. That’s all we know.
HMA: Well, with this I think you actually topped any other crazy on the road story I’ve ever heard and it does not involve groupies!
LK: We’re all married, that’s why we don’t write books about it, groupies. My wife said, “I don’t care what you did before me. I don’t ever want to hear about it.” We don’t want to have a book so their friends could be like, “Did you read your husband’s book?” My wife would be like, “No,” they’d be like, “Well he said-” “No, I don’t want to know.” That’s why we can’t write a book.
PK: They’re not even that crazy. I think our roadies got crazies stories, I love when I read these books or interviews with bands that are supposedly trying to build a crazy reputation and we’re like, “Our fucking roadies are wilder than these people.” All roadies should write books. They have the real stories
HMA: Okay guys I’m gonna have let you go, just one more question, where are you touring next?
PK: We’re doing a small run in the states, and then we go back here in October, right? Well, in Europe.
LK: First we do a little bit of the States, then we have one show in Mexico City, then we have another show in Texas, just a one-off, a festival, and then we go back to Europe. There’s a lot of flying around.
HMA: And in November you’re going to release the new album.
LK: Hopefully. I’m hoping October-November, but it’s looking more November-December. The music’s done and everything, it’s the book, getting it printed and everything. Lot of pages and some embarrassing photos of our hairstyles in the ’90s
Interview by Manuela Mattera, live photos by Simon Balaam – Copyright 2016 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.