Friday, April 8, 2016

Interview with Thommy Browne from Miracle Drug, By the Grace of God, etc.

The first time I encountered any of Thommy Browne's bands must have been at Michigan Fest in probably 1997 or 1998. In the midst of their powerful performance, I remember singer Rob Pennington reading a bunch of poetry at the beginning of their set. I didn't much care for poetry then, nor do I now, but something about it made an impression on me and BTGOG immediately became one of my absolute favorite bands from that day forward. I saw them a couple more times over the years in Chicago and even now I can never decide whether BTGOG or Snapcase is my favorite band from the golden years of Victory.

A few years later I got to see Black Widows a couple times right when they started, and while not quite as immediately gripping as BTGOG, I really liked them as well.

Anyway, when I heard about Miracle Drug a year or so ago, I immediately got stoked, and was super bummed I had to miss them when they played Detroit a few months ago, due to it being counter-booked with a record release show for some friends whose 7" I helped put out. At any rate, being that I play drums, I'm always stoked at the prospect of interviewing other drummers.

Being that Thommy has dropped the backbeat for some of my favorite bands, I nervously decided to reach out, a couple months ago and was psyched when he got back with me. Be sure to check out Miracle Drug if they roll through your town, and grab their demo when it gets released this summer as a 7" via Trip Machine Labs.
What was going on in your youth/adolescence that took you down the path to punk and hardcore?
My father collected vinyl from the late 60's and 70's, so I grew up looking through his records and listening to them. Music was always being played in the house. I became pretty passionate about music from an early age, was into skateboarding and by middle school was getting really deep into metal. I obsessively watched Headbangers Ball, loved Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, etc.
I also had an older brother who introduced me to punk rock, mostly The Misfits, Descendents, Fugazi, and local Louisville bands like Squirrel Bait, Solution Unknown, Kinghorse, Slint and Endpoint. I would borrow, dub and keep most of my brother’s cassettes. Around this time I got serious about playing drums and would rent drum kits from Doo Wop shop (local music store) and then eventually bought a crappy used kit from a friend.
I didn't have any cymbals, or cymbal stands, so I would piece together what I could and hang metal garbage can lids from my bedroom ceiling. In 7th grade on a school field trip an older kid in 8th grade introduced me to Minor Threat and straight edge, and it all spiraled from there.
Garbage can lids from the ceiling, holy shit! In terms of picking up drumming, what drew you to your instrument? Did you have any sort of musical background/training, or did you just decide to go for it?
No musical background whatsoever, but was always drawn to the drums and watching other drummers play. I've never taken lessons or even know how to read music. I just got that rhythm in my soul bro.
                                                                      Thommy playing with Enkindel in 1995

What were some of the first shows you attended, bands you were inspired by, etc.?
I started going to local punk/hardcore shows in Louisville when I was in 9th grade, which was 1991/1992. The first show I went to on my own was an all local show with Indignant Few, Dybbuk and Bush League at The Bar With No Name. I went to grade school with the guitarists of both Indignant Few and Dybbuk so it was fascinating to me that guys I knew were playing in actual bands!
Around this time I met other like-minded kids my age and started my first band. Soon enough I was going to shows every weekend and was seeing local bands like Endpoint, Kinghorse, Sunspring, Crain, Step Down, Dybbuk, Sancred, Shut Out and national acts like Jawbox, Integrity, 411, Born Against, Bloodline, Avail, Split Lip, Shelter among many, many more.
I soaked it all in but was most inspired by passionate aggressive music.
My first contact with your playing was through BTGOG. What projects were in you before that and how were they similar or different from what you wound up doing later?
During my Freshman to Junior year in a high school I was in a handful of bands that never played shows or even recorded. During my Junior year of high school my friend Ramsey and I were asked to join Enkindel after their bassist and drummer quit. Enkindel was the first band I played a real show with, the first band I recorded with in a real studio and the first band I toured with.
I was also in a short lived band called Amaroq with Rob Pennington and Nathan Salsburg. If you have never heard of Nathan, look him up. Since we were in high school he has always blown my mind with the songs he writes on guitar. Amaroq was a punk rock band, but Nathan's soul is drenched in folk music. The majority of his work is instrumental acoustic guitar, but it is so much deeper than that. I can't ever NOT express how much his music means to me and it blows my mind that we were ever in a band together.
In the fall of 1995 (right after I graduated high school) Rob talked to me about forming a new band with Duncan Barlow, Jonathan Mobley and Jay Palumbo. We started practicing immediately, wrote 5-6 songs and played our first show opening up for Earth Crisis in December of that year. From there we started playing more shows, played out of town a lot and we recorded what songs we had with plans on releasing it on Initial Records. Later things changed and it was released on Victory Records.
The rest is history.

                                                              Thommy playing with Miracle Drug in 2015

BTGOG was obviously known for being very political, both in terms of your lyrical stances and then later for being critical even of Victory when they started running ads in porn magazines and whatnot. How would you say the band (and your earlier experiences in hardcore in general) influenced your outlook today as a business owner, a father, etc.?
I didn't grow up in a religious family or go to church at all. My parents installed good ethics in me and taught me right from wrong in their own way ... but I was still missing something. Punk rock and hardcore filled that empty space. The positive messages from lyricists like Rob Pennington, Taylor Steele, Pat Dubar, Ray Cappo, Anthony Civarelli, Kevin Doss, Kevin Seconds, John Coyle, Dan O'Mahoney, Chris Hannah (and many, many more) helped shaped me into the man I am today.
Punk music was my religion. Whether it was opening my eyes to animal rights and how disgusting mass factory farming is, to improving race relations, or putting an end to sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
Thommy playing with By the Grace of God in 2015

So I've read in various places over the years that the original dissolution of BTGOG was a result of violent altercations/attitudes and a general rightward/apolitical tilt in hardcore. I guess over the years I've always felt that while the more progressive/socially/politically conscious bands have always been around if you know where to look for them, there's definitely been less of an emphasis on those things over time. I'm curious if you share that sentiment, and if so, whether you see it as a problem, or more so just the natural evolution of things.
The reasoning you mentioned may have been that of individual members in the band, but as a whole I would say that there were a handful of various things going on that led to BTGOG taking a hiatus. If anything the reasoning you mentioned is exactly what the song "Goliath" is about. Keep in mind it has been almost 20 years since then, so I may have my facts wrong, but I believe the original dissolution had to do with Duncan wanting to move to Denver, CO. to finish school.
As far as the violence and militant ideologies go, I think it's always going to be around in some shape or form and certain individuals will be drawn to it, just like certain individuals will be drawn to the antithesis of it. Right now in 2016 I am overwhelmed with the positivity and rarely encounter those problems. I am very thankful for being able to be part of such an incredible scene right now.
After BTGOG you did Black Widows/Cross for a while, and now you're back with Miracle Drug. Have you had other projects you've worked on in the intervening period, or was it more work/fam for a while?
Yes, I've had a handful of different projects between BTGOG and Miracle Drug. To keep things brief I try to list all of the projects I've done in-between BTGOG and Miracle Drug. 32 Frames, Black Widows/Black Cross, Get Dead (never played a show, or found a singer!), Lincoln & The Lost Prayers, Chime Hours, Straight A's (played a handful of shows as a second drummer), Ritual Void and Miracle Drug. Intersperse BTGOG, Automatic and Endpoint throughout that list for the occasional show as well.
                                                                   Miracle Drug-2015
Talk about the impetus to start up Miracle Drug. How did you guys all come together and what were some of the initial reference points both sonically and lyrically for where you wanted to take the band?
About three years ago I had heard that Bricks Avalon, the singer from C.R. had somehow ended up in Louisville with his family. It wasn't long before we crossed paths and started hanging out. At the time I was playing in Ritual Void, but it really wasn't where my heart was at. I was very good friends with the people in the band and it was literally the best band situation I had ever been in, but I was never really 100% into what we were doing. I was yearning to play hardcore again the type of hardcore I grew up watching and listening to.
Matt Wieder and I tossed around the idea of starting something and I told him if we get it going we should get Bricks to sing. I asked Bricks if he would be interested in singing in a hardcore band again, and he was! Everything was slowly coming together. I was talking to Jeremy Holehan about playing with us, as well as Jay Palumbo, but he only practiced with us a couple times. The idea of the band was that we wanted to draw inspiration from the 90's hardcore bands we loved like Inside Out, No Escape, Worlds Collide, Undertow, Outspoken, Lincoln, Burn, Downcast, Juvenocracy, etc.
As far as MD goes lyrically -- that's all Bricks. I can't possibly begin to describe what is going on in his brain but it is fucking genius.
The demo was obviously well received and I know you guys have done a bunch of shows around Louisville/Indy, plus a bit of touring. I think I read the demo is coming out on vinyl via Trip Machine.....what else does MD have in store going forward?
Yes! Our 2015 Demo will be released on 7" vinyl on Trip Machine Laboratories this summer, and we are very excited about it. We plan to demo some of newer material in the next couple weeks and but there is no plan to release it. We will probably pass it around to some labels and try to stir up some interest for someone to put out an LP.
More than anything we are just going with the flow and sticking to our original plan for the band. We want to have play music that makes us happy, and have fun, period. We are all older dudes in our early 40's and we still need this need and want this outlet.
Miracle Drug-2015
Speaking of BTGOG, you guys toured Europe with Trial last summer and just a few days ago mentioned that a new 7" is in the works.  First off, how did the tour with Trial come together/how was that experience?
Well, I didn't play on that tour (sad panda) and our friend Kent Pledge filled in for me. I work full time as a web designer/developer and the vacation time I do get gets spent with family. I heard from the guys that the shows were great, and the tour overall was a lot of fun, minus Duncan catching some gnarly strain of the flu, the heat and constant van problems. That's tour though! Gotta roll with the punches.
I've noticed you guys have played a few show shere in the States, are there plans for any more extensive U.S. touring?
No plans for extensive touring ever, as BTGOG will never be a full time thing for us. I think the reason we still keep BTGOG alive is because we aren't a full time thing. Duncan is a professor at University of South Dakota, Rob is a professor at the University of Louisville, and Tree and Jay both are very skilled carpenters.
Besides work we all have our own things going on whether it be other bands, parenting, publishing, consulting, exploring the hills and valleys of central Kentucky, pet rescuing, skateboarding or veganing (you know ... like, being a big nerd about the newest and best vegan hot spots. It's a full time job). Playing shows sporadically every year works really well for us and our lifestyles.
How does it feel to be writing new material with those guys again, and how would you describe the material thus far?
It feels great, and often times feels like starting a new band all over again. Over the past 6+ years we have been sitting on a hand full of half-written songs that need some finishing touches. To me they fell similar to the first 7" era of BTGOG.
Final mentioned still wanting/needing the outlet of hc punk. What is it that continues to draw you in and keep you inspired 25 years after you first started going to shows and were hanging trash can lids from your bedroom ceiling?
First and foremost I have an undying love and attraction to aggressive music. Playing it, seeing it live and listening to it. Over the years I have strayed away here and there, but I always find myself back on that path. Secondly, the punk community are my people and I don't see myself growing out of the progressive ideologies I've been taught from it. I mean, I'm going to be 40 in December. I think it's already damn well rooted in me for life. I still get energized and motivated by so many bands even this day. It all keeps me going.
                                                                   Miracle Drug-2015
Upcoming Miracle Drug Shows:
April 22: Louisville, KY @ Haymarket. Benefit for Alex Rhema w/ Knocked Loose, Fairlane, Breaking Wheel, Nine Eyes and others
May 1: Louisville, KY @ The New Vintage w/ Bane
May 13: Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club, How Much Art Can You Take? Fest w/ Fuck You Pay Me & lots more
May 20: Lombard, Ill @ Brauerhouse w/ 88 Fingers Louie
May 22: Chicago, Ill @ The Cobra Lounge w/ Sheer Terror
July 3: Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus
September 16: St. Louis, MO @ Fubar Lounge w/ Break Away and others

Peep the Demo:

1 comment:

  1. Great interview and BTGOG and MD are both among my favorites, thanks!