Black Kites, June 2011
I always wonder about your guitar work while listening to Black Kites and bands your played in before. And I can’t say I hear something similar often. And I bet you had been asked about that pretty often if not everytime. But anyway. What you had in mind when you started to develop that style of playing and sound with your guitar?
And concerning Black Kites — is there any particular reasons or ideas why you choose to play exactly with that instrumental setup (drums, guitar, vocals)?
TOM: I started going to hardcore shows around 1993. Up until then I had mostly just listened to alternative rock and punk bands on tape or cd, never really seeing bands in a live setting until I started going to basement shows. I learned a lot about music from seeing bands play in such a raw setting. When I first started playing in hardcore bands I was pretty immersed in much of the 90’s hardcore happening at that time. I loved Snapcase, Earth Crisis, Threadbare, Endpoint, Unbroken, and 108. Unbroken’s «life.love.regret» really struck me because it seemed to infuse this metal influenced hardcore sound with a noisy, dirty sound similar to alternative rock bands I was familiar with before (like Sonic Youth). The two records that probably informed my guitar playing at that time though were: Endeavor «Of Equality» and Converge «Petitioning the Empty Sky». I loved how both bands seamlessly mixed genres and sounds, but put them together to sound like a coherent song. It was challenging and fun to play. in 1996 I started a band called You and I. I think much of the writing I did for that band was influenced by those records.
When Jeff and I started Black Kites I was thinking of playing music more along the lines of the hardcore I grew up with that I mentioned earlier. I wanted to get away from the overly technical time signatures of some of my previous bands and just get back to playing a more straight forward hardcore. I guess the result has been a mix of my style over the years infused with 90’s hardcore. I had no intention of not getting a bass player. We started playing with the guitar, vocal and drums set up and writing songs that way, thinking we would add a bass player later. Our drummer moved and we were left to find a new person to fill the seat. At that point Jeff and I just wanted to get a drummer and start playing shows. We asked Jay to play drums for us and it all just locked in so well that we decided to start playing shows rather than search for a bass player. In previous bands (The Assistant and This Ship Will Sink) I had run two guitar amps and one bass amp to replicate the sound of a 5 piece band. I decided to do that again. It’s worked out pretty well. Writing songs in this format can be challenging. You have to find ways to constantly be creative with just one guitar. I enjoy the challenge and so far have been happy with our song writing.
So you playing in bands for 15 years now and involved into hardcore punk even longer. And as person that being active in DIY community for that period of time — how would you describe your feelings about things going on and change? For you personally, for that community as a whole and even for the world. What caught your attention for the most part in different periods of that time? In political, social and musical sense.
A certain amount of change is good, but I also believe that the change should build off of the more productive and positive aspects of the past. There are certain things I miss about the 90s hardcore scene, generally there was more consciousness toward social and political issues. At times those politics did become a little simplistic, not taking into account people’s perspectives outside of the general demographic, but at least it was something that was engaging people and getting people to think. Most of the friends I had who were politically active in the 90’s hardcore scene have left hardcore behind and extended their politics into their lives work by being teachers, union leaders, grant writers, etc. It’s a great thing to see the inspiration of the social politics of our youth extend into adulthood and shape our values. This to me is way more important and worthy of investment. I have the utmost respect for the people who have adopted hardcore as more than just something they do on the weekends to pass the time. You don’t see that as much anymore, at least not here.
I was 15 years old and very excited when I got into the hardcore scene. Perhaps that excitement blinded me to the negative aspects of that time. When I meet younger people today I see some of that same excitement with an obliviousness towards some of the negative aspects, so I assume I was the same way. For some younger person, perhaps 2011 will be the best they remember hardcore ever being. I suppose it could be all relative.
I always enjoyed the variety of music that shows would have back in the 90’s as well. I remember seeing Endeavor, Hot Water Music, Assuck and Lifetime all on the same show. The entire crowd watched every band and was very excited. Things are way more segmented now and shows are extremely genre specific. This can get boring very fast. Fortunately for Black Kites, we are asked to play a variety of shows ranging from traditional hardcore, to screamy chaotic, to even indie rock shows. I am very grateful for this.
It’s interesting to look on how punk hardcore changing with time. It seems like 90’s was really good at developing radical though by this community. But now I hear from people, that saw or participated in that work, talking about things slowed down or just became really different on that side. Now we have tools to spread information dramatically and people around globe getting into this legacy and beginning to adopt these thoughts for their local area and build up their own ideas. And these ideas and values spreading and affect people’s lifetime since youth, because they starting to build up their own personalities with these ideas and values. And yes — those people, who trying to integrate their ideas into their professional work, is doing really huge job for everyone, because it’s powerful way to evolve their own way of living and other’s too. The cause of me thinking about this right now is that «hate5six diaries» trailer I saw yesterday. Greg Bennick is doing great job on actualizing and globalizing everything that hardcore punk developed with time into real help for people in need. And so many people have access to this foundation and can use it for good. So, in your opinion, is it really «music of revolution»? How far it can go in nearest future?
I think your example below with Greg is evident in what I said earlier. Greg definitely does initiatives that encompass the punk scene, but I think much of the work that he is doing is fostered outside of the punk scene into the mainstream. Sure, he hasn’t totally dropped out of punk, but his focus is not mainly on playing in a band anymore. I think that type of work outside of the punk scene is more vital because he’s taking all the values and ideals that he learned from punk and exposing them to a large base of people. One could also argue that the punk scene itself is really not capable of the massive global efforts that Greg’s work is focused on (though, perhaps a part of it). Greg was extremely inspirational to me; Trial was a very important band for a lot of people I know. Figures like Greg Bennick, Chris Jensen, Dave Rudnik, Rob Pennington and so many others were so important to my experience in the hardcore scene and I’m glad they all contributed to it, though, it’s easy for me to see why people with that much passion can find more accomplishment in working outside of the punk scene today.
So, what’s about place where you made recording? Was it Permanent Hearing Damage again?
With the exception of the Advancement to Ruins LP (which was recorded at Casa De Ross by Chris Ross) we’ve recorded every Black Kites record with Steve Roche at Permanent Hearing Damage. Steve has recorded just about every band I have been in since about 1999. He’s a good friend and pretty much know hardcore inside and out.
And finally on straight edge topic. What do you feel on your own about this after years? What would you tell to person who never heard about straight edge, but interested to learn about it?
I found out about straight edge when I was 15 years old (17 years ago). I never really drank or did any drugs at that point anyway; straight edge gave a name to how I was already living. At 15 I was pretty militant and I suppose much of that is due to the fact that I was really trying to carve out an identity for myself. At that point I really felt i was a part of something larger. Since I had rejected common American institutions that would usually provide those aspects of community (church, family, school sports, etc), I found myself immersed in all that straight edge and hardcore had to offer. In some ways it was negative in that I was pretty judgmental of how other people lived. But, in many ways it kept me out of trouble and gave me some better insight and priorities into what really mattered. As for today, well...., you could say I am much less militant. I always hated being around people who couldn’t control themselves. That was always a constant. It’s not really fun for me to be around a bunch of people who are intoxicated. I think you have to be intoxicated yourself to enjoy that. Same goes for smoking. Smokers can all sit in a room and smoke together and not have any problem with it, but a non smoker would be dying of inhalation.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse which contributes to something called vata-vasil syndrome (a condition where I don’t get enough oxygen from my blood, it causes me to pass out). At one point I couldn’t drive for more than 15 minutes without pulling over. I was told to give up caffeine, start working out and also begin taking two prescription medications daily. I struggle with the prescription medication a lot. There is a noticeable change in me when I take them. I can’t even to begin imagine what type of long term health effects these pills will have on me. They improve my quality of life in terms of my anxiety and ability to receive oxygen from my blood, but I’m told that they steal a spark from my personality and leave me acting reclusive. This is something I will keep struggling with. I suppose one can say I have contributed to the pharmaceutical phenomenon that has become so popular in American culture. Is this any different from alcohol or drug culture? I would like to believe my behavior is not born out of an impulse to escape the realities of my life, but more to confront them. Despite the medication, I still consider myself straight edge.
If someone asked me today about straight edge and how I identify with it....that would be a hard thing to answer. Being sober for me is similar to breathing. It’s second nature. I never find myself with the urge to partake in drinking or smoking, so it’s hard to define something when it is just a natural part of your life.
Thanks for this talk and sharing, Tom.