Saturday, January 24, 2015

Interview with Matthew Cross (Collapse, ex-Orange 9mm)

The band that got me into hardcore was Sick of It All…I saw the video for “Step Down” on Headbanger’s Ball one night and was instantly hooked. From there I started reading In Effect zine which was based out of NYC so all my early favorites came from that scene. This was when “alternative” or underground music was seen as commercially viable so a lot of those bands (SOIA, Civ, Quicksand, H20, Shelter, and many others) were on major labels and were touring a ton. One band from that era who I absolutely loved was Orange 9mm. Their first LP “Driver Not Included” had the grooves of Quicksand, the aggression of SOIA, plus an unmistakable hip-hop influence delivered by the commanding Chaka Malik. I was blown away.

Orange 9 toured as much if not more than those other bands so I must have seen them a dozen times from 95’ to 98’, mostly at either St. Andrews Hall in Detroit or The Reptile House in Grand Rapids; I even caught them on the first rendition of the Warped Tour. Their second LP “Tragic” held much of the same power as “Driver”, although it also began to show off a more experimental side of the band. After “Tragic” I stopped paying attention for the most part, although years later in 2004 when it turned out that their drummer Matt Cross was in a grad school class I was taking on Congress & the Courts I almost shit my pants.

I wore an SOIA sweatshirt to class one night so he walked over to me and was like “Oh hey, I used to know those guys, my old band toured with them. Yeah, I recorded with 108 too and pretty much knew all the bands from that time.” Needless to say when he went on to tell me who he was and that he was in Orange 9mm, I was pretty much in awestruck fanboy mode. Unfortunately, I never really worked up the nerve to talk to him after that brief encounter and we never crossed paths again during the rest of my time in grad school.  

Then about two years ago I heard that he was still in the Detroit area and had a new band, a raging hardcore punk project called Collapse. Shortly thereafter I worked up the nerve to friend him on Facebook and came to find out that like me, he’s a teacher. Alright, I figured, I know this guy has tons of awesome stories and we seem to have a lot in common, I’ve gotta talk to him for the blog.

He immediately agreed and we started exchanging questions and answers several months ago. This has turned out to be probably the most extensive and far-reaching interview I’ve done thus far, but then again Matt’s history in punk and hardcore is deeper and more wide-ranging than anyone else I’ve ever talked to.

What has struck me most about Matt is his humility, honesty, and deep commitment to humanity. He is truly an inspiration, musically and otherwise.

Matthew Cross ladies and gentlemen…

I'm curious to learn more about your background. You've obviously spent time playing music all over the world; are you a native Michigander or did you land here later in life?

I was born in Michigan, and grew up in the suburbs just north of Detroit. I started playing drums around age 13. After high school I lived in Detroit and Hamtramck until my early 20s. I moved to New York City in the early 90s to join Orange 9mm, and was there for about 8 years until I moved back to Detroit in 2000 to go to school. The band ended in ’99, and by then I had grown disillusioned with music generally, and didn’t have much confidence in my own abilities as a musician. While I really liked the direction Orange 9mm was going those last couple years, and the chances and risks we were taking with music, it was also the lowest point in my life in terms of my faith in myself as a player, and being in a band generally.

That was around the same time when my interest in politics and history moved from a general curiosity to a passion. By the late 90s when Orange 9mm would tour, I’d bring an extra bag with about 12 books in it, and would run off to find the local library to do research between load-in and our set. My bandmates would laugh, but they also encouraged me to consider going back to school, like “You’re doing more work than most students do, you should get college credit for it.”

After the band broke up, I took a couple years off from playing as I started my undergrad work. The next thing I did was a project called Firewerk, with some people I’d played with before moving to NYC. It was a guitar-heavy industrial band, and I had a blast with that. It got me excited about making music again, in part because my drumming was minimal and easy, but also because we were more focused on making and enjoying the music than on the business end of things. It’s impossible to find the words to describe the joy I’d always gotten from playing and performing, and when I lost it, it was like my heart had been cut out of my body. So I really owe a lot to that band and those people.

I stopped playing with Firewerk in 2004. I was in the middle of my MA program at Wayne State University, and between work and school I just didn’t have the time. When you and I met at WSU, I’d been in Detroit for four or five years. When I started playing with Collapse in 2012, I hadn’t played drums since 2004. I mean, I’d set up my kit and play for an hour or so every few months, but nothing beyond that.

Like me, you grew up in the pre Internet era, so how did you discover punk and hardcore? From your perspective, what’s gained and lost by discovering the subculture via digital means as opposed to randomly stumbling upon it or having a cool older sibling or whatever?

My brother was into new wave in the early 80s, and as a pest of a younger brother I was always in his room going through his tapes. That’s where I first heard bands like Sex Pistols, The Jam, and the Ramones. I loved new wave, and still do, but was really drawn to the energy of punk. He’d bring me along once in a while to hang out with his friends, where I was exposed to bands like Vice Squad, Motorhead, and Discharge. A friend of his turned me on to a local high school radio show that played punk and hardcore, and I filled up several cassettes in my bedroom recording those shows. That’s where I first heard and fell in love with Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, The Offenders, MDC, Black Flag, and other early hardcore bands. Man, I really wish I still had those tapes…from there, I started going to independent record stores, buying zines, and going to shows at the Graystone Hall. I was hooked, completely.

I always felt out of place as an adolescent. I played basketball, but was never a jock. I was in theater, and played in the school band, and was always into reading, so I was pegged as a nerd and a “queer” (as if that’s a bad thing) early on, and got a lot of shit for that. I hated Reagan, didn’t trust the police, and had issues with authority in general, so for me – like so many others – punk and hardcore became this space where I felt, for the first time, some sense of understanding and community. It was a place in the world that helped me make sense of the world, you know? That scene had, and still has, so many troubling aspects – it’s not until recently that I’ve really gained clarity on just how fucked up those spaces can be, especially around gender and race. But at the same time, ironically, it was through hardcore that I started learning about those issues.

I can’t really speak to what it means to discover the subcultures of punk and hardcore in the digital age. People talk a lot about the internet and digital media keeping people disconnected and isolated from others, but I felt like that for almost 20 years before the internet. It seems to me that if people want to be in community with others, they’ll make it happen. And many people suffer, to varying degrees, from a lot of anxiety and trauma. So for them, the internet allows for a kind of community that might feel safer for them, and I think that’s a good thing.

And for me, I don’t think I really knew that I craved community, or being an active, present participant in a subculture, until I went to a few shows. At first I was just there to see the bands, you know? When I started talking to people and learned what other people were doing as “punks”, I started to have a sense of what a scene was about, and how important it was to have other human beings to share this experience with.

Today, I’m still discovering new bands by going to shows, talking to people, reading zines, etc. But I’m also discovering a lot of incredible music by exploring online. For example, I was looking for old videos of Los Crudos on YouTube, and eventually came across an anarchist hardcore band from Portland called Adelit@s. Now I have all their records, and they are straight up one of my favorite bands. When I listen to them, my heart jumps in my throat just like when I was 15 listening to Bad Brains’ ROIR Sessions. I might have discovered them eventually – Mikey and Jhone from Collapse are into them – but maybe not. So I’m personally really excited about how easy it is to discover new music online. The only downside for me is the terrible sound quality of mp3s.

However people get into punk and hardcore today, whether it’s through a friend, a zine, or browsing the Profane Existence website, I hope they find something that moves them to eventually do something real – to start a zine, to start a band or open a space for shows like you’ve done, or to become active around some issue in their community.

Oh man, I've always heard about shows at spots like the Black Cat and Grounds Coffeehouse, but this is the first I've ever heard of Graystone Hall. Indulge me and drop some Detroit punk history...where was this spot at and what were some of the most memorable shows you went to there? Aside from national bands, what were some of the locals you got excited about when you first started going to shows?

I loved the shows at Grounds Coffeehouse, it was such fun space. The Graystone was on Michigan Avenue west of Livernois. I actually live just a couple blocks away; it’s a laundromat now. Not exactly sure of the timeline, but I think they had shows there from around 1983 until 1987. I saw a lot of great bands at that space: 7 Seconds, Black Flag, Youth of Today, Cro-Mags, Dag Nasty, Life Sentence, Bad Brains, Scream, and more. I wasn’t around for the first wave of U.S. hardcore, so there were a lot of shows at places like the Freezer Theater and the old City Club that must have been just insane, like Minor Threat and Negative Approach. As for local bands, I really liked Angry Red Planet, Inside Out (not that one, the Detroit one), Heresy, and I loved State from Ann Arbor. Their “No Illusions” EP is still one of my favorite punk records.

You know, memories are funny…I don’t really trust them, and I want to be clear that what I’m saying is framed by where I’m at now. So I loved going to shows back then, but shows used to frighten me. It had nothing to do with being in Detroit; it was the violence and the constant threat of violence, whether the show was in Detroit, Redford, or Warren.  You had this really intense white male aggression that was so much a part of that scene. I mean, it’s still there today, but this was just out of control. You could feel it in the air, choking you…like half the crowd was just begging for the chance to fight someone. For the longest time there was a significant presence of racist skinheads at Detroit shows. They weren’t the only ones making trouble, but they were definitely the worst, and you really started to question whether it was worth going to a show or not. That’s why I enjoyed later shows at Grounds or 404 Willis, because it was a much more positive, peaceful energy.

I know a lot of people try to romanticize this period, or explain those attitudes away, like “Oh, you just didn’t know them; they were really sweethearts when they weren’t beating the shit out of people.” And to be fair, I know a lot of these kids – myself included – were struggling with serious problems and trauma that deserved real help and attention. And that’s perhaps what attracted us to this scene in the first place. Going beyond that, I don’t know if it’s possible to be a young white male in a patriarchal/apartheid society – with all the entitlement that comes with that – watching this industry you assumed would employ you as an adult crumble and fall, and not be emotionally jacked up.

But the fact of the matter is, those shows and those spaces were often dangerous, aggressive, and just a fucking bummer. And that’s before the police arrived, which always made it worse, because they were just looking to get their rocks off harassing and beating up these kids no one else cared about, and who often needed real help. But it was still a bad scene, and like I said, you wondered at some point why anyone bothered. Who wants to go to a show and get smashed in the head for no reason by some skinhead on dust? What’s the difference between that and getting beaten up by some homophobic jock at school? The soundtrack, I guess.

What made it worthwhile for me was seeing these bands play, and meeting people who recognized this culture had the potential to be something so much better than the dominant capitalist/colonialist/celebrity culture we’d all been raised on. When Collapse toured this past summer, there was almost no slam-dancing, and every space we played felt safer, at least from what I could sense, for most people there, and especially for a 15 year old kid, you know? So “back in the day” had its moments…I’m grateful for the experience, and it had a huge impact on me and how I was shaped as a person, but at the same time there are aspects of it I don’t miss at all, and I don’t want to minimize them.

It's insane to hear you say "Yeah I just moved out to NYC to play with Orange 9" so casually, haha. How did you get to know those guys and how did they come to recruit you to play with them? Given their resumes, especially Chaka's, what kind of expectations did you have when you joined the band?

I didn’t mean for that to sound casual; it definitely wasn’t casual for me when it all went down. In terms of expectations, I knew it would be life-changing, but I couldn’t imagine to what extent. In some ways, I’m still processing that time and the effect it had on my life.

I loved the late 80s/early 90s era of Revelation Records, and how these musicians I’d been listening to for years were going in these new directions. The Quicksand and Burn EPs were favorites. I’d go see Quicksand anywhere I could, and struck up an acquaintance with Alan Cage. Actually, I think I just forced it, like “I’m a drummer, you’re an amazing drummer, and you are gonna talk to me now because I drove three hours to watch you play.” At the time I worked in a drum shop, and would hook him up when they came through. I knew a lot about drums, and eventually he asked me to come on tour as their drum tech.

But before that could happen, he called a few weeks later to tell me I should try out for Orange 9mm, who was looking for a drummer. He told me if he wasn’t doing Quicksand, he’d want to play for Orange 9mm, and had recommended me to Chaka. I said I was interested (in my head I was freaking out), and then Chaka called a few minutes later. He sent the Revelation EP recordings to me the next day, I learned the songs, and drove out to NY a week later to audition. They said I was in, and within a few days I put my stuff in storage and moved.

And yeah, it felt intense to try out for a band with Chaka, because that Burn EP was like a book I couldn’t put down. A lot of people who love that record talk about it in almost mystical terms, and I was totally one of those people, yet I hadn’t heard his new band yet and wasn’t sure what they were about. When I spoke with him on the phone, I started to question if I could pull it off. I was still a hardcore kid, and in my head I was thinking “Burn, Absolution, Nausea…” But on the phone, Chaka was saying “Zeppelin, Jesus Lizard, Curtis Mayfield…” I was like “oh yeah, Jesus Lizard, man. Sweet…” and thinking I’d better go buy one of their records immediately so I don’t look like an idiot. But once I got there, it didn’t matter. I just fell in love with what they were doing sonically, and I was able to evolve as a player into what they needed at that time.

Aside from working at the shop and getting to know Alan a bit, were you in any bands at that time that Alan had actually seen you play in, or did he just trust that you had chops?

I was in a band at the time, but I don’t think Alan had ever heard me play before that phone call. He probably just assumed I knew how to play because I knew about drums. Chaka had asked him if he knew any drummers around the country who might be interested in trying out, and Alan mentioned me. It is kind of funny when you think about it; here’s a band from NYC, a city up to its neck in talent, and they’re looking across the country for someone. Maybe they liked the idea of reaching beyond what was already familiar to them. I really couldn’t say.

I'm sure the thought of being in a band that you knew would be able to tour was pretty mesmerizing in and of itself, but what about moving to NYC on top of that? Were you intimidated at all or was the excitement of that moment enough to just completely overshadow it? Was your family supportive or did they give you the "you're throwing your life away" speech?

Touring was a possibility that definitely excited me, and so was the sense that the band was going to be signed, but the main draw was the music – I wasn’t going to leave Detroit to play music I thought was boring, regardless of who was in the band.

I’m not sure I was intimidated by New York City any more than I would have been by any city I was unfamiliar with. The cultural shift was difficult; how people spoke and interacted was a real shock, and it took a while to adjust. But I came to love and appreciate how up-front people in NY could be with one another, while in Michigan it seemed like so few of us will come out and say what the hell we mean. My cultural environment growing up was often about repressing feelings and avoiding personal conflict. So being there led to many moments of discomfort, but also a lot of personal growth.

My family was pretty supportive, and that was very important to me. No, I never got that speech about throwing my life away, thankfully. The speech I wish I had gotten was the one where I was reminded why I had started playing music in the first place, and where I was reminded what corporate music is all about. Looking back, I shouldn’t have needed that speech. And I’m not sure it would have made a difference in my decision, but I really wish I’d heard it.

You guys toured so much and with so many great bands. When you think back on it, what were some of the highlights from that time; either in terms of friendships you made, experiences seeing the world, etc.?

The most obvious highlight would be meeting my wife; I don’t have the words for what that relationship has meant to my life and my evolution as a human being. She’s the best person I know, straight up. But it was a really special time, and an incredibly privileged opportunity to meet and bond with a lot of really great people.

Some of the highlights are obvious: touring with Sick of it All means you get to watch Sick of it All tear it up every night, you know? But it also means getting to know these people as human beings, and eventually as friends, and that was special. As a coffee lover, it was so much fun to explore the cities and towns we were in and find great coffee with the people I was becoming friends with. I could go on for pages and pages about this. I’m glad you asked this question, because depending on the day, I might be more likely to focus on the negative aspects of this period. But you know, I met really fantastic, talented, and remarkable people, got to play music every night, and most of the time just had a blast. The aspects of touring I enjoyed with Orange 9mm are the same I enjoy now with Collapse; what makes touring with Collapse more enjoyable is that it’s just us – we’re not thinking about selling records, radio, the label, or anything like that. It’s just five of us getting in a van and trying to have as much fun as possible.

Another high point was reading. Touring gave me the opportunity to read so much, way more than I have time for now. And living in NYC and taking the subway everywhere was great because I always had at least a half hour at the beginning and end of each day I could dedicate to reading. On the last tour with Collapse I was able to read a lot more; I actually started and finished a book. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done that.

But I think the most significant takeaway of that period of touring with Orange 9mm was seeing the U.S. as a country, and recognizing some common themes related to politics and economics. That sparked a real shift in my perspective. I’d always had an interest in those issues, but after a couple years I started seeing patterns. Every city had, to varying degrees, similar elements of inequality – here’s the really rough part of town where people of color live, here’s the really nice, secure white suburbs, here’s the financial or business district that is either crumbling or being redeveloped, and here’s the once-depressed area being gentrified by young, “hip” white people. And everywhere I met and talked with people who were really, really struggling. This was the 1990s, during the so-called “Clinton Boom,” and yet shit was not booming. I knew Detroit was going through a really hard time, for a long time, but I always had this sense Detroit was an outlier. Like no other city was dealing with what we were dealing with, to the same extent – this decades-long toxic combination of white supremacy, male supremacy, job discrimination, housing discrimination, capital flight, corruption, etc. Yet now I was seeing signs of the same things in all these other cities, big and small, around the country. I wasn’t sure why these things were happening, and I wasn’t aware of the larger systemic and institutional structures responsible for it all, but it moved me to want to start digging in and find out.

The band obviously evolved and incorporated a lot of different styles as time passed...I guess I have two questions related to that. 1) You always hear about major labels trying to push bands in certain directions, I'm wondering what your experience was there. Was there constant pressure to write a certain kind of song or were you given more creative freedom? 2) I know for myself I appreciated the earlier, more straight-forward material more than the later, more experimental stuff. How much push and pull was there within the band in terms of where to take things sonically?

For the first question, I don’t remember too much pressure. When we were on major labels for the first two full-length records, I felt the expectation that we needed to deliver something they could work with, but I don’t remember anyone telling us how or what to write. Maybe that happened in conversations with Chaka and Chris (our first guitar player), but I never heard about it. In fact, I doubt a lot of bands were told what to write. I think someone at the label or management says “We would love to get you on the radio,” and then you go listen to the radio and try to do your version of what’s there. Or at a different level, you’re hiring professional songwriters.

As for the second question, the Revelation EP and the first full-length defined our sound for a lot of people. And yet we never wanted to be defined by anything. I knew we’d never make a straight-up hardcore record, or a metal record, but Chaka and Chris, and later Taylor, were into so much different music that it was hard to know what was going to inspire us year to year, or month to month. There was one summer when we were rehearsing and recording demos in Taylor’s basement on Long Island. We wrote and recorded an entire record, at least, worth of material that no one has ever heard. Some of it is really rough, but some of it was just incredible. We were using keyboards, percussion, messing with odd time signatures, and just going off in whatever direction the day took us. A kid who loved the EP might have showed up and said “What the hell is wrong with these people?” but for us, it was just a beautiful experience.

That’s why “Pretend I’m Human” is my favorite Orange 9mm record. I know, I’m seriously in the minority on this one, and when I hear it today I think we went in the wrong direction in terms of production. But I love those songs; I just don’t think we captured them the way they deserved. Except for one or two songs, we wrote that whole album in the studio. We were at the studio by 9:00 am every day ready to work. We’d have coffee, listen to music, and talk about how we were feeling that day, what it meant to be human, what it meant to create art, and what we felt like exploring. We’d listen to Jay-Z, Talking Heads, Rush, Curtis Mayfield, or Miles Davis, and then go jam until noon. By 1 or 2, we’d have the foundation of a song, lay it down, work out the kinks, and then get up the next day and start again with a new song. Taylor was really coming into himself as a songwriter and a guitarist, and Chaka was writing the best lyrics of his life, as far as I was concerned. So the experience of that record was really special, and I can hear that in the recordings.

You mentioned earlier that you felt at a creative and musical low by the end of Orange 9mm.....would you attribute that to being burned out on the road, playing with the same people for so long?

No, I wasn’t burned out on the road. I loved playing with those people, I loved playing those songs, and it felt good that people wanted to hear them. I always was excited to play new material live, but I respected the fact that people liked the older stuff. Not many of us pay $10 to see a band thinking “I hope they don’t play any songs I like.” When we played something off the EP or the first record, and someone just started going off, that always filled me with such joy, and made me dig deeper as a player. Like I wanted to give that person every ounce of my energy, to make that moment as good for them as it could possibly be. I never got tired of that.

At that level (corporate music), when you put out three records and they each sell about the same amount, it’s hard to keep going, unless you’re Motorhead – they can sell the same number of records each time, tour, and be sustainable. On the one hand, you’re thinking “Man, 30,000 people bought this record, that’s so amazing” and you’re still high from the kid at the show last night telling you how one of your songs is basically keeping him alive. But on the other hand, the label is looking at you thinking “Only 30,000 records? We need to get rid of this band as soon as possible.”

On the last tour for “Pretend I’m Human”, our label pulled our funding in the middle of the tour because the record wasn’t selling. It was like artistic austerity, or something – “The record’s not selling, so rather than do our job and find creative ways to get it out there, we’re gonna make life on the road even harder for you.” Maybe there was more to it than that, but that’s how it was communicated to me. This happened in the middle of other problems, like personality shifts (me included) in the band that started to pull us apart, along with this sense that no one at the shows knew who we were or even cared. When the tour funding was pulled, it was just the last straw. Like, what the hell is the point of doing this anymore? And I took some of it personally. It felt like every day there was a comment from someone in the band about how my playing was somehow the problem, yet no one could tell me what I was doing wrong, or what I should be doing instead as a player. I don’t know how much of that I just projected onto myself, but I didn’t have the maturity or the self-confidence to rise above it.

So we broke up on the road. I had a couple opportunities to audition with other bands, and Chaka asked me to continue working with him on music, and I just said no to everything. I was really into studying by that time and wanted to get into school as soon as possible. School felt like something I could be good at, and that was important to me at the time. I think I was really hard on myself at this point; I questioned whether I had made any real progress as a person during that 8 or 9 years. I’d been playing drums since I was 13, and it was tough feeling like I wasn’t good enough to do that anymore. But I think I had progressed, in the sense that I had been self-educating more and more, trying to be open to new and challenging ideas, and by the time the band was done I was ready to take my education to the next level.

Alright last set of "back in the day" questions and then I wanna ask about Collapse. So one of the other things that made my eyes bug out of my head when I first met you is when you told me you played drums on a couple of the early 108 records. So of course I have to did you get hooked up with them and what was that experience like? Rob and Vic are obviously pretty strong personalities and they were certainly more intense about their Krishna beliefs back then as compared to their recent reformation the last few years. Was that an issue at all or were you just happy to be involved with them creatively? Lastly, I’ve always loved Battery and Mcternan’s studio work...what was it like to have him manning the boards?

I think it was their third record, “Threefold Misery”, and the “Curse of Instinct” EP. We also recorded songs for a Bad Brains tribute record and a Misfits tribute record. We recorded them all in the same session with Brian. I saw 108 in California when Orange 9mm was there recording our first LP, and I was really impressed with their energy. I’d heard their records and liked them, but was really moved by their live performance. I don’t remember how the connection happened; either Rob or Vic got in touch with me…I want to say it was through Norm Brannon, but I’m not sure. I was excited to play hardcore, and when Vic gave me the demos for the record, that’s when I was really excited to do it. The songs were so fierce, and his guitar playing was just on fire. And I also realized at one point that I really loved everything I’d heard Vic do. I think he’s one of those people who bring a signature, unique sound and energy to every project he does. I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of people like that.

So we rehearsed for a week or two, and then went up to Brian’s and finished all the basic tracks in a day and a half. I was happy to do it, and I felt like we all got along well. Triv was great, I really enjoyed playing with him as a drummer, and he became one of my favorite bassists after that. Their faith wasn’t an issue for me, or mine for them; they just liked my playing and I liked their band. In fact, I was grateful for the opportunity to see what they were about, and what their faith meant to them. It also meant a lot that a band like that, of people who took seriously what they were trying to do, had trust enough in me to do right by them.

Brian was really cool and laid back. I recall him staying in the background and letting us do our thing. Except for the covers we did, Vic, Rob, and Triv came in knowing what they wanted, I knew my parts, and so Brian was just there to get it all down. I didn’t know anything about him until that point, to be honest, but I remember it being a really good, fun, and easy experience, which is exactly what you want from an engineer/producer.

Alright, so give us some insight into the formation of Collapse. Y'all are obviously a diverse bunch whose backgrounds span across age and experiences, how did the five of you come together?

It’s funny about the generational differences…once in a while something comes up where that difference is more obvious – maybe a cultural reference – and I’m like “Oh that’s right, I’m 20 years older than you.” But for the most part, I’m not aware of it at all, though I can’t speak for the others. It just feels good playing with these people. Probably the most obvious aspects of that generational gap are the aches and pains I get from playing, and the fact that by 10:00 pm I want to be in bed.

I’d realized for a while I really missed playing punk, this music that was such an important part of my life. I knew Jhone a bit, because our wives are friends. Every once in a while we’d talk about music, and I knew he was into a lot of cool and different stuff, like Crass, Neurosis, and Voivod. But when it was first brought up, Jhone was kind of noncommittal. He was busy with other things, like work and his writing, and I think he was questioning what he wanted to do artistically.

He attended the 2012 Allied Media Conference (AMC), and was inspired by that experience to start making music again. It’s funny, because it was on the last day of the AMC that we finally got it together. Adela and I ran into him and his wife on Anthony Wayne Drive just as we were all leaving the conference. I remember them dropping some papers in the street, and I ran out to help him pick them up. As soon as we got them together, I think I blurted out “Um, so let’s get together and just play Black Flag songs. Something, anything. We could just play the 'Damaged' album.” Or something ridiculous like that, thinking in my head, “Please, I really need to do this.” And he was like “Fuck yeah, let’s do something.”

Jhone asked two of his good friends (Mikey and Eric) who played guitar and bass, and who both lived at TrumbullPlex, if they wanted to jam with us. The first practice felt good, and both Jhone and Mikey thought Ashleigh would be good to sing. Anderson, who works at Allied Media Projects and used to be in a great band called I, Crime, started playing bass with us a few months later when Eric left for personal reasons. At the time I was teaching an Audio Recording/Podcasting class at AMP, and happened to mention to a mutual friend that we were looking for a bassist, and Anderson wanted to do it.

When Jhone was first playing hard-to-get, I’d thought about trying to find someone else to play with, but I wanted to play with him, or at least someone like him. First, he just seemed cool. There was also the fact that like me, he was over 40 and still loved punk, and we’d had similar experiences and perspectives living in metro Detroit. As he says, “It was as if two old heads found each other and fell in love all over again.” But another reason I wanted to play with him is that politically he’s on the anarchist spectrum, and that felt like the right direction for me. I just wanted to write, play, and record music. I didn’t want to mess with the bullshit of being “in a band” – the ego, the sense of entitlement and self-importance, or worrying about money – and I think having that kind of perspective on life, power, and art struck me as being the most conducive to making good music, being inspired, and having fun.

For most of my life, I was always missing a political approach to playing music. I never reflected, in a deep and intentional way, on what it means to produce art in community with others, or recognized that so much art in our capitalist culture reflects and helps maintain dominant, oppressive power dynamics. If I were going to do something artistic at this stage in my life, it had to have some political foundation. That doesn’t mean I had to make overtly political music, although I wanted to do that. It was more about having a sense of what drives us to do this in the first place, how we’re going to treat one another in this collective process of creation and delight, and how our work will reflect our principles and our responsibilities to the broader community. Those are crucial, fundamental questions I’d never really considered in all my years of playing. And because those questions are now central to what I do, in many ways I’m feeling today, at 44 years old, like I’m just beginning.

This past summer you did a week or two long tour that took you through the Midwest and out East a good bit. I was particularly intrigued by the show up north in Traverse City which took place at a children's museum of sorts if I remember correctly. How did you guys get hooked up with that show and what was the atmosphere like playing in a space like that? How was the rest of the run/what were some of the highlights?

That tour was so much fun. It shouldn’t have been fun for me, as I was in pretty awful shape physically, to the point where I had to take a month off afterwards to recuperate and heal. But it was good. Last summer we went out for about six shows, and this time we were able to go out for two weeks.

That show was in Marquette at the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, and was booked by a friend of Jhone’s. It was one of those places where you walk in and think “Okay, this is really cool, but where the hell are we going to play?” But it was so fun, and so magical and colorful. We had a blast running around and exploring that place, I can only imagine how amazing it must be for kids who go there. The setting creates a good energy for the people there, and it also sounded really good in that room – we played in a little walled-off area full of children’s toys. That show was a highlight for everyone in the band, I think. Marquette is also a really beautiful town, and Jhone’s wife grew up there, so it was a pretty special couple of days.

There were so many high points…at Guide to Kulchur, a really great bookstore in Cleveland I bought Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” and those were my tour books. In Minneapolis we went to Extreme Noise Records, which is one of the best record stores I’ve ever been in. And since I’m in a band of hilarious people, especially Anderson, there’s a lot of laughter and ridiculousness in and out of the van.

But the best parts of the tour for me are the bands we played with, and you’ll forgive me if I go off on that for a minute. For our kick-off show in Detroit we played with a great local punk band called Social Werq, and in Marquette we played with a really cool folk-punk band called The Gray Beast. Both bands have great drummers. I love watching and learning from drummers with different styles and approaches to the instrument, and on tour I got that pretty much every day. In Minneapolis we played with Rifle Diet. They are one of my favorite bands right now; to the point where it’s sometimes hard to be normal around them because all I want to do is talk about how amazing they are. In Chicago we played with a couple bands we’d never heard: Nerve Damage from Texas, who were really powerful and incredibly nice people, and Sick Sad World, a punk band from Chicago. I think SSW were my favorite of the whole tour. Great songs, I loved the singer’s energy, and their drummer Jasmine is really good. She plays a double-bass pedal, but didn’t use it in the typical way most players do; she got me inspired to pick one up again and start working with it.

Finally, we played a couple shows with Toska from Philly. Kane, their singer, used to sing for an amazing hardcore band called Stockpile, and Toska is his new band. We played with them at the Philly DIY Fest, and again at a house show in Richmond, VA the next day. Their drummer Derik is incredible. At both shows I constantly wanted to interrupt their set and ask “Wait, what was that beat you were playing? Could you slow that down and show me?” I don’t know enough about that genre to describe them properly or who I’d compare them to, but if you like aggressive, blistering, heavy yet dynamic music played by people who know what they’re doing, get that record. They are not fucking around.

Collapse obviously touches on a broad spectrum of political topics in your lyrics....I'm curious if those are written collaboratively, if you all discuss certain topics in advance and then hand em' over to Ashleigh to flesh things out, or if she takes the reigns so to speak in that department?

The collaboration is primarily between Ashleigh and Jhone. Mikey, Anderson, and I will often chime in, but usually it’s between those two. One or the other will often have complete lyrics for a song, but as a general rule if Ashleigh wants to use her lyrics for a song, that’s what we’ll use. And as we work on songs, some lyrics shift and evolve.

We do have conversations about lyrics, not just in terms of how they work as part of the song, but also the content. When Ashleigh came to rehearsal with the lyrics for “Disarm,” she said “I have lyrics for this song, and it’s about cutting off rapists’ dicks. Does anyone have a problem with that?” And that turned into a long, complex conversation about sexual assault and violence, misogyny, the use of fear as a political weapon – the fear so many women feel on a daily basis, compared with a song that might make some men uncomfortable for three minutes – male privilege, and more. I think that was when I knew I was in the right band, with the right people. It also made me more aware of how important it was to support Ashleigh, not only as a fellow musician and band member, but also as a woman and a human being who was stepping into this very vulnerable, visible space and speaking about something real to her.

 A lot of Collapse/Trumbullplex info of late has come with the tagline "bros fall back" which seems to correspond with your song from the latest record "Broinsinuation"... I'm wondering if you could speak to the impetus behind that a little more, and elaborate on what you all see as being necessary to create spaces where everybody can participate in a meaningful way.

I’m pleased you phrased the question that way. So many people, primarily men, see “bros fall back” and get defensive and threatened, often because they don’t understand it and don’t bother to learn what it means. And at the same time, maybe those of us using the phrase have a responsibility to be clearer about what it means. I should say I’m not a member of the TrumbullPlex Theater collective, so I can’t speak for them.

Bros Fall Back was a zine produced by some folks in Philly in 2013. It’s a great zine, and I highly recommend reading it; you can find it online. It speaks to certain behaviors we see in many spaces, but especially in punk. These include taking up space in ways that are aggressive or dominant, making the moment all about you and your interests/desires, not considering the experiences or feelings of others, and refusing to be aware of the larger contexts and issues surrounding the show we’re at. The authors of the zine call on themselves and others to practice accountability, to be conscious of these behaviors, as well as to think and behave differently.

Some hear the phrase as telling people they can’t enjoy themselves, and their response is “What the hell, I’m at a show just trying to have fun, and now you’re telling me I can’t.” Well, if you can’t have fun without being a jerk, or intimidating someone else, or disrespecting the neighborhood and the people who’ve lived here for decades, we’d prefer you stay home, or go see a show at a place where they don’t care how you act. And if you come, be prepared to be called out on your shit. The universe is about more than just you.

House shows happen all over, but they are often in poor, working class areas, and often communities of color. In many cases, a house show is a symptom of gentrification. I know punks would prefer to think we’re above all that, but in fact we’re often right in the center of it. So we could show up and party, and be loud and disrespectful, because fuck it. Or we could consider the lives, experiences, and preferences of the people around us, both at the show itself as well as in the broader community. If punk is going to survive in any meaningful way, it seems like we have to do the latter. And a lot of people in scenes around the country are taking real steps in that direction.

The word “bro” suggests a dig at men; our song “Broinsinuation” reflects the gender component of this more than the zine, I think. And yes, this behavior is typical of many men in our society, but it isn’t so much about gender as it is about behavior, and a refusal to be aware. Related to this, the authors emphasize our responsibility to understand ourselves in the context of the systems of domination and oppression that have shaped us. Those of us with advantages and privileges, and all the opportunity and entitlement that accompany them under these systems – in other words, those of us with power – should “fall back”, examine where this thinking and these behaviors come from and what they mean for others, and start doing the work. It’s not easy work; even with those advantages, many of us are carrying a lot of trauma, and maybe it’s impossible to fully complete the work. I’ll quote the zine here:

“Safe spaces don’t exist. We can attempt to protect each other, and even make moves to screen who we deal with, but until we end the world there’s no way we’ll ever be safe, even amongst ourselves. We’ve all gone to similar messed up schools, grown up among creeps, liars, and bullies and we can’t simply undo everything that has led us to become the people we’ve become, not without actively unlearning who we are, and without undoing what made us. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take care of each other, heal each other and empower each other – only that we need to understand our context.”

Reflecting that last line, I think of it as a healing process, in a way. I’ve been poisoned and traumatized my whole life by racism, sexism, colonialist ideology, and more. But as someone who is on the dominant side of these – those systems and ideologies were invented and implemented for the benefit of me and people like me – I have a responsibility to resist, and to support those who suffer most under these systems. Most of all, I have a responsibility to find for myself another way of living and being. I think the zine reflects the work and thinking of people who are trying to move punk – the genre of music that has, at least rhetorically, been the most unapologetically outspoken about the inhumanity of these systems – in a more humane direction.

It’s funny, when Ash first brought the lyrics for “Broinsinuation” to practice, I really liked them. The slow part especially, when she says “Take a step back, you stupid fuck”; that always makes me smile. But it also became clear that the song was about me. Not that she was targeting me personally – the song was inspired by an actual, infuriating experience Ashleigh had at a show – but that I have a lot of these tendencies and behaviors. To some degree, I’ve been a “bro” most of my adolescent and adult life, unfortunately, and I recognize in myself the need to do this work.

What's next for Collapse, we gonna get an LP from y'all at some point?

Yes! We’re writing new songs now, and hoping to record sometime in the spring. The plan is for an early summer release, and we’d like to make vinyl happen. Depending on how the songwriting goes, we may also re-record some earlier songs we’ve changed up since then. There’s a lot happening with different members of the band right now, so we’re struggling a bit to figure out our timelines and what is possible in terms of recording, getting the record out, and touring this summer. But we definitely want to make it all happen, and I like how the new songs are evolving.

I feel like you have such a comprehensive perspective on punk and hardcore not just because you've been involved for so long but especially because you sort of came up through the ranks as a kid, joined a band that was a part of the biggest commercial wave in the history of these genres, and now have come back full circle playing in a band that's doing things super d.i.y. That said, from your perspective, what have been the most striking changes over the course of your involvement with this music? What's for the better, and what's for the worse?

Before I say anything, I want to stress two things: first, I’m still a hardcore kid. That’s how I think of myself, and I’ll always think of myself that way, at least to some extent. Hardcore punk shaped who I am in such fundamental ways. So I speak here as someone who loves and cares about this music and this culture.  At the same time, I also speak as someone who is not active in the hardcore scene. There are a lot of people who stayed in the scene and never left, or continued to find ways to contribute. I didn’t. So I want to be clear and honest with anyone reading this about who I am and where I’m coming from.

In general, I think the negative aspects of punk and hardcore, at least in the U.S., are the same as when I first started going to shows in 1984 – the continued dominance and influence of white supremacy, male supremacy, capitalist culture and values, and the violence that is an essential component of each of these. Punk and hardcore are not alone in this, of course; these infect every aspect of our culture in some shape or form. Many punk scenes have shown some real evolution around these issues, thanks to very dedicated and active people who continue to make change possible.

Speaking to the racial dynamics of hardcore punk, it is still an overwhelmingly white scene. While there has been real progress around awareness, I’ve personally seen less progress around practicing inclusion and intentional engagement with other communities. Too many punk spaces take a “Well, the door is open to anyone who wants to come…” approach, without actively finding and creating ways to engage with people outside this narrow spectrum. And the danger of this is that in our culture when white people are around other white folks 98% of the time, it becomes difficult for us to avoid adopting or assuming white supremacist ideas and behaviors.

While racism and sexism are not exclusive – they depend on and reinforce each other – I am starting to see scenes evolve in positive ways around gender. That evolution is thanks to the work of women, and the few men who openly support them. But because so few men are active around this, we’re still stuck in many ways. I’ve gone to shows recently where every single person performing is a straight white man, and 90 percent of the crowd is men. At some point, you’d think we would look around and wonder “hey, what are we doing if so few women would consider coming here?” How “punk” are we when we’re essentially replicating one of the worst elements of corporate rock? But a lot of people around the country are working to reverse this trend; in some spaces, like TrumbullPlex, there won’t be a show if all the bands are exclusively male or cis-gendered. On our last tour there were unfortunately a couple of shows where Ashleigh was the only woman performing, but for the most part there were far more women, as well as more queer people, than you see performing at most shows.

As an example of what I’m talking about, take the Black-n-Blue Bowl which was held last year in Brooklyn, NY, and featured two full days of both established and up-and-coming East Coast-style hardcore bands. It’s a great event for people who love this music, especially because – as I understand it – the people organizing that festival are fans of the music and want to celebrate it. They’re doing it for the love of the music, and they’re not out to screw anybody over. At the same time, you look at the 2014 line-up and you see there is not a single woman performing. It’s usually the same with the This is Hardcore festival, Rain Fest in Seattle, and others.

In addition, there is no one on these line-ups who appears to be openly gay or queer. Think about it – would these shows look any different if they put up a sign that says “Hardcore Show – Straight Men Only”? This means the complete and utter absence of any woman’s perspective or presence is considered normal and acceptable in these spaces, and the flip side of that is that female expression is minimized, devalued, and rejected. At some point, when what you’re promoting reflects dominant gender (and often racial) power dynamics to such an extreme extent, you have to ask why, and critically examine your answers. It’s not the music, by the way – even metal is more open to gender diversity than hardcore, though not by much.

Again, I appreciate the motives and the dedication of the people who put these shows on every year – it is months of very hard work, and they do a great job. And it’s important to stress that they are doing this work within a scene, and within a larger culture, that has no expectation of men to consider these questions and issues. More than that, it’s a culture that often punishes men for stepping up and supporting women. But I think we need to keep pushing the idea that it shouldn’t be normal, it isn’t acceptable, and intentionally set examples of a new way of doing things.

Of course, the commercialization/corporatization of punk falls under the “worse” category, and is something that troubles a lot of us. Yet at the same time it was completely predictable, given the system in which we are living and working. At the beginning most of us would have laughed at the idea that this kind of music would wind up on the radio. And most of the “punk” on the radio has almost nothing to do with hardcore punk – they are essentially Beatles or Beach Boys songs played with a “punk” esthetic. No one is playing Negative Approach’s “Ready to Fight” on the 80s station, you know? No one is playing Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” either, for that matter.

If you can get 500 people in a hall to see a band, there’s a company somewhere that wants to get in the door with them so they can sell them shoes, or hook them into a cell phone contract. In fact, we’re at a point now where if the message of the music is at all radical, it probably helps the company. It reinforces the idea that we don’t need to go outside the corporate system to access “different” or “radical” music. Like, “Oh, you hate the system? That’s great – we’ve got Rage Against the Machine for you here, or maybe Rise Against is more your style?” I’m not dissing those bands; I use them as examples to emphasize that what these companies care about, above all, are consumers – people with disposable income who will come to them when they want music. The companies don’t care that the community where that show is happening has a 40% illiteracy rate, or that more than half the men under 30 in that community are in the prison-industrial system. And they have helped to maintain a culture where most “consumers” don’t even consider those issues. Or even if they do, the company can sell them something, too. Whether you’re into Beyonce or Bad Religion, they’re still getting your money.

So that’s something that has changed…punk is now a corporate subculture. That’s hard for me to accept, because of what this music meant to me personally, and what I believe is its revolutionary potential. But I also get why people jumped ship. I understand – believe me, more than most – the attraction of being signed, of the possibility that you might actually be able to scratch out some kind of living making music. And connected with that is the deeply entrenched capitalist idea of equating “value” with money. I want to be very clear on this point; I don’t criticize anyone who makes that decision. I gave up any right to do that a long time ago. And we live in the world we live in, you know?

But at the same time, what I consider “real” punk survives, and in many ways is thriving. It’s struggling with a lot of issues, like I mentioned earlier, but the survival of punk speaks to its potential. It also speaks to the potential of D.I.Y. principles, and what it would mean to have a much stronger artistic culture rooted in those principles. Take someone like Jason Navarro, who had success with Suicide Machines. He’s in two other great bands, Hellmouth and Break Anchor, and he’s also busting his ass working full-time. Leaving aside the fact that he seems to be (I don’t know him as well as I’d like) a genuinely good person who cares about helping other bands and supporting the scene, he happens to also be talented as hell. He should be able to support himself and his family just doing music, if that’s what he wants. As a fan, I don’t want him, or anyone in his bands, working some 9 to 5 that saps his energy and drive, I want him working on music, you know? What would it mean if there were different systems in place that were sustainable, accountable, and cooperative, in which people could survive as artists? Because it’s not just him – there are more people like that than we can count.

That leads me to another change. D.I.Y. strategies have evolved to a degree where more people can not only create art and stay alive, but have a good life. Many of us can’t imagine a life like that – in part because our idea of a good life is so distorted with capitalist preconceptions about what we need, and fear of going without all those shiny things – but there are people making it happen, because more of us are willing to support them.  And we see it not just in punk and hardcore, but with folk music, Hip-Hop, and other genres in which artists are rejecting the capitalist/commercial approach and finding new ways of making and sharing their art. So the energy is there, but there still aren’t enough of us chipping in to make possible the kind of transformation we’d like to see.

So in addition to banging the drums for Collapse these days, you teach Politics at the community college level. This could be a complete stereotype, but if they're anything like the American electorate as whole (or my high school kids); they're probably not always the most stoked about political affairs. As an instructor, what strategies have you found to engage people in your course content?

No, they are generally not stoked about political affairs. I can’t imagine why, considering the effective, honorable, fair, and humane system we currently enjoy.

I remember one of my teaching mentors leaving their classroom at the end of a class, cursing their students because they didn’t know who the Speaker of the House was, or didn’t know about some important Supreme Court case. And I thought, “Who in their right mind would want to know any of that?” I obviously agreed it was important information, to an extent – I was in school for it – but I don’t think a lack of interest in politics or civic participation is something to hold against my students, or anyone. Don’t hate the player, hate the game, as the saying goes. And the fact is we have a political culture that discourages participation and engagement, and presents not just the system, but the practice of politics in general, as unattractive and nasty. That’s not an accident. It is the often-stated intention of the people who run the system(s) to keep us marginalized, fragmented, disillusioned, and disengaged. “Nothing works in D.C., they’re all crooks, government doesn’t work, both parties are lying, etc.” And then in the next breath, they’re saying “But capitalism works! Now look at this new shiny thing over here! Only $99!” And of course for the people who run the economy and sell us the shiny things, government works very, very well. But when we have that anti-politics message everywhere, 24/7, what do we expect? It is so pervasive, sometimes I think the fact that people actually resist this culture and still try to make change is a miracle we need to celebrate.

So I see the lack of interest as a natural result of the systems and culture we’ve created, and I don’t fault or judge anyone for it. But I also know most of my students really do want to understand their world, at least a little better. They don’t like not knowing or understanding what’s happening in the world, and they don’t like the sense that there’s nothing they can do about the problems they see.

And that’s where the work is so challenging. As a teacher, I can’t compete with years of socialization and programming. I’m not Bain Capital or Comcast with my own media empire. And I can’t compete with all the personal struggles so many of my students are dealing with that take precedence, rightfully, over what we’re doing in class. But I can be someone who is supportive of them and their goals. I can be someone who is willing to explore different ways of engaging, of analyzing and understanding the world, in a way that meets students where they are in this life and culture. That requires an awareness of myself, too, and where I am in this life and culture.

As far as strategies, I owe a lot of my recent growth as a teacher to the Rida Institute, a three-day education training held in Detroit in February 2014. “Rida” refers to “ride or die, which comes from Hip Hop and Chicano cultures, and means someone who can be counted on during times of extreme pressure. The Rida framework is inspired by Paolo Freire and other liberatory education theorists, as well as studies of effective teaching approaches in urban classrooms. What impressed me most about the framework is the importance of big and essential questions, like “What does it mean to authentically serve our students?” and “What would it mean to humanize education?” Like I mentioned earlier with music, I taught for years without ever really considering these questions. Instead, I was focused on how to be a better lecturer and catching “cheaters.”

The Rida Framework is complex, or at least I found it to be, but two important components are 1) having an awareness of context before content – I need to understand, as best as I can, my students’ concerns, interests, experiences, and perspectives. And that leads to 2) delivering the content in a way that prioritizes them and their experiences, and allows them to direct their own learning as much as possible. As I go down this path, I find I’m not teaching so much as facilitating – creating a space where they can come together to analyze the material in a way that they can see themselves in it, and come to care about it. There’s always room for improvement in any work, but so far I’m seeing engagement from far more students now than when I first started teaching.

And to be clear, I’m making plenty of mistakes. It would be wonderful to decide, “I’m gonna be a better teacher now,” and then just walk into the classroom and do it. But like with anything worthwhile, it takes a lot of work and practice, and mistakes are part of that process. Also, it is really difficult to undo years of habit, practice, and perspective. I came up most of my life with teachers, especially at the college level, who believed teaching means talking at students for two hours. And when I first started, that’s what I did. It’s hard not to fall back into those patterns and that thinking, because they’re easy and still culturally and institutionally supported.

I’ve also benefited from the work of the Center for Teaching and Learning, a department at school tasked with providing support and training for teachers. There are some people in that department who care about the human value of education, and being able to work with and learn from them has been very helpful.

Secondly, how (if at all) would you say your background in punk and hardcore informs the perspective you bring to your classroom?

That’s something I hadn’t considered before, but it makes sense. In “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Friere describes what he calls the “banking model” of education, which is hierarchically structured. The teacher is above, the students are below, and the teacher deposits their knowledge into the (presumed to be) empty heads of students. Friere argued that teachers had a responsibility to see and treat their students as equal, fellow human beings, who are capable of examining their worlds critically, in collaboration with others. Conventional education was a form of oppression, he argued, because its purpose was to maintain the status quo power structure. For education to meet its full liberatory and democratic potential, it had to be humanized. Education had to be rooted in both the belief and the practice that all people have the intellectual and creative potential to understand their socio-political reality and deal critically with it.

In some ways, hardcore punk was the U.S. working class response to a similar hierarchy in rock music, where the band was high up on a stage, 50 feet away from anyone, larger than life, full of celebrity entitlement, and the most important people in the room. I’m ashamed to say one of the reasons I liked teaching in the first place was because I enjoyed being the center of attention. That’s one of the worst motivations for teaching, because I am not the most important person in the room. From an institutional and cultural perspective, maybe I was – most classrooms are still physically designed in a way that presumes that hierarchy. But I think that mindset ultimately fails most students. It fails the teacher, too, because it’s really difficult to keep that facade going without becoming bitter or burnt out.

Punk also inspires people to get involved and get to work. The best punk scenes are the ones with a culture of involvement, inclusion, and participation, and I think those factors also make the best learning environments for students. But most important, they help students realize that another world is possible with education. When they see that a classroom can be organized in a way that their experiences are valued, and they see themselves in the work, you’ve suddenly opened the door to the idea that maybe other things, bigger things, could be organized differently, too.

Did you ever have that feeling when you went to your first hardcore shows, the sudden, sweeping awareness that “music” and the culture surrounding it could be so refreshingly different from what we’d previously known?  Education needs to go down that same road. Not by privatization or “market” solutions, but through democratic values and practice.

Another connection with punk is that I generally say what I think in my classes, and I don’t shy away from issues that are controversial or uncomfortable. It’s important to stipulate here that I try to do this only when it is relevant and meaningful to students and their learning process. And before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that this is easier for me than for other teachers. First, I’m at a community college and most of my students are adults. But most important, I have real autonomy in the classroom, thanks to my union. If I learn about some radically different lesson plan from another teacher and decide to try it out, I can do it. I also have an easier time as a white, “straight” male – if a woman raised the same issues and questions I raise about gender, many students would probably call her “angry” and complain to the Dean that she hates men. But when I do it, they think I’m “provocative” and “thoughtful.” That’s some serious bullshit, but it’s also the reality, so I feel I have an obligation to use that power conscientiously and responsibly.

But continuing with that point about saying what I think, with punk you express yourself in music and lyrics. And like in a classroom, you’re expressing ideas, questioning some things, praising others. With punk, the person on the mic has some faith that the people in the room are willing and able to listen, to consider what’s being expressed. Punk is about being real, about stripping things down to their root, and saying “This is what is happening, and here’s what I fucking think about it.” And why are people are down to listen? Because they know once you’re done you’ll step away from the mic and be with them for the next band. You’re not running for your limo, surrounded by security, or heading backstage. There probably isn’t a backstage, but you know what I’m saying.

So I think education has to be real, too, and we have to have that same faith in our students. I tell them that I will express my ideas because I have faith that they can handle it and because I want them to express themselves too. That helps establish a sense of trust in the classroom – they know that what they say might be challenged by me or others, but in a supportive way – they also know I won’t punish or demean them if I disagree with what they’re saying. If I don’t believe they have the capacity to handle complex or unconventional ideas, why should they believe I can handle what they are thinking? Why should they trust me with anything? I have to prove to them, and this takes time and effort, that they can count on me. They need to know I’ll be straight with them, they can be straight with me, and that in this process I have their back.

Thank you for this question, by the way. I was thinking as I finished that last paragraph that I want to organize an education workshop called “The Punk Rock Classroom: How D.I.Y./Punk Principles Can Revolutionize Education.”

Lastly, what still keeps you motivated and inspired to be making a racket with people a decade or two your junior in rooms of what are usually a few dozen people at best?

A lot of things motivate and inspire me. The most important is that hardcore punk is still in my blood and in my heart. I’m not done playing drums, and I’m not done making music. Another is I feel like I have value as a player, that I have something to offer other musicians, and that other musicians have so much to offer me. Lastly, what I spoke to earlier about having a political, or philosophical, foundation helps keep me motivated, and keeps me examining and questioning why I’m doing what I’m doing. I still make mistakes; like anyone, there are days when I’m not the best person to be in a band with. But I think I’m better at it now than I’ve ever been. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of being older.

As far as how many people are in the room, I want enough people in the room so the touring band has at least enough for gas and food. Beyond that, I don’t care how many people are in the room. I’m just excited to play music. I want to play well for everyone in the band because they’re my friends, and I want each of them to feel good playing, because that will inspire me to do better. I’m so full of gratitude for the fact that I can still play, and that there are people who want to make music with me, who want me to back them up.

I don’t know about the age thing…so far, no one at a show has yelled out “hey, is that your Grandpa on the drums?” Maybe in my next band, I could be the youngest person instead of the oldest. I might be ready for that; I think it could be great.

Orange 9MM in Philly at The First Unitarian 97':

Photo credits for this interview go to: Salvatore Aiello, Damien Dissonance, Daymon Hartley, and as always, Google Image.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad I came across this interview. I was (and still am) a huge Orange 9mm fan. The first time I saw them live was the first Warped Tour and the last time I saw them (unfortunately) was at the 1999 (pretty sure that's right) Warped Tour. I only went to see Orange 9mm and Suicidal Tendencies who ended up not being able to play. I think because Mike Muir had been pretty sick. I'm pretty sure I saw every single show they played in Atlanta in between the two Warped Tours. I had the privilege of getting to meet and hangout with the guys after several shows. A good friend of mine had taken Chaka to the hospital during the first Warped Tour, so I met them through him. I'm also a drummer, so I chatted Matt up quite a bit and he was always really cool and genuinely seemed like a real nice guy. Unlike many Orange 9mm fans, I respected both the "Ultraman VS. Godzilla" E.P. as well as "Pretend I'm Human". I not only respected them because it was a band I really loved but I REALLY like and still listen to those songs. " When You Lie", "Lifeless", "Pretend I'm Human", " Alien", "Dragons", "604", "Victim", they're all great songs. I'm glad to see that Matt is still involved in music. He was definitely a huge influence to me.