Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Interview with Adam Gonsalves (Holy Hands, Sweet Jesus, Fiddlehead, etc.)

I was not around/paying attention to the first iteration of Atomic Action Records, but since its re-birth a few years ago, AA has become one of my favorite labels, and I've even had the chance to book bands like Fucking Invincible and Raindance a couple times. Anyway, when the "Absolutes" comp 7" came out a couple years ago on AA, I was really stoked to check out some new bands from the East Coast. While most of the bands on the label are heavier/more aggressive, the song that really stuck out to me on that comp was from Holy Hands, a band I'd never heard of before, but whose Elliott/Quicksand vibes are right up my alley.
I wasn't able to track down much else about them until last week when their new 7" "Sweet Love" was posted, which I promptly listened to and once again was overjoyed with. I had to know more, so after doing a little research I saw that their vocalist/guitarist Adam also plays bass in Sweet Jesus, who put out what was probably my favorite LP of last year. 
That sealed the deal, I had to talk to this guy. So emails were sent, Adam was really enthusiastic about chatting, and here we are. 
Hey Adam! So I usually interview people I know or have at least met before through booking their band or whatever, but that’s obviously not the case here, so give a little intro of sorts...aside from bands and such, what do you for work, where do you live, etc.
Aside from my bands I am first and foremost a dad and a husband. I have a daughter that makes life very interesting. I am also an elementary public school teacher, who occasionally works a shift or 2 at our local taqueria called No Problemo. I am from New Bedford, Massachusetts. It's a smaller city about one hour from Boston, and 30 minutes from both Providence, and Newport, RI. I grew up here and it proved to be a great central location  for going to hardcore/punk shows. I have also lived in Queens, NYC and Seattle, WA; both of which were really positive experiences.
Probably my favorite thing about interview folks in bands is hearing their "origin stories" so to speak. Talk a little bit about how you got into punk and hardcore...random kid at school, cool older sibling, what drew you in? 
I discovered skateboarding in 1989, which inevitably changed my life forever. I am still traversing through life on paths which stem from that moment. This was simultaneously my introduction to punk and hardcore, as it often was the soundtrack to skate videos. The sound and fury of hardcore really made an impression on me. Coupled with the ethos of bands like Minor Threat, Fugazi and Gorilla Biscuits, I knew that hardcore was where I belonged. 

Our local hardcore scene in New Bedford was really awesome as well. My first local show was in 1992, to see a band called Intent to Injure. Over the last decade I have played bass in that band, for several reunion shows. Even my current bands: Holy Hands, and Sweet Jesus have members who I met back in the early 90's at these local shows. 

Hell yeah, I'm also a family man and public school teacher, always cool to find kindred spirits! One of the recurring questions that I continue to wrestle with in juggling family, work, and a passion for music is how to achieve balance. I only play in one band and find it difficult to manage everything at have you found a way to keep all your pursuits in some semblance of harmony?

As you know, balancing family, bands, and work is no easy ride. To be successful in the balance struggle it all comes down to trust, understanding and maintaining my PMA! Trust and understanding are crucial. Both my family and bands agree that family always comes first. Having this understanding, my wife knows that even if I have practice tonight, I would cancel if she needs me at home. On the same token, all band members know that this is always a possibility and that I will work with extra diligence next practice to catch up.

I am also very fortunate to play music with such incredible musicians. I have three active bands (Holy Hands, Sweet Jesus, and Fiddlehead). Holy Hands is the only band that has a regular weekly practice schedule. Both Sweet Jesus and Fiddlehead can have gaps as lengthy as months in between practices. For example, after our 9 day EU/U.K. tour, Sweet Jesus played a show per month for 5 months with no practices at all. It may not be ideal, but we make it work. In the end, because of our infrequent practice schedule I am able to have 3 bands, stay married and maintain a career. See, there is evidence that the Positive Mental Attitude is also a critical element in the struggle for balance! 

I always get jealous of people who came up on the East Coast...not that Detroit hasn't always had a lot of cool stuff going on, but damn. Anyway, did you have a sense when you were a kid that you were a part of something special or did it just seem normal to always have these incredible bands playing all the time?

When I was a kid I certainly felt like I was part of something special. Without question, the most incredible band I have ever seen was called Chilmark and they were actually from Cape Cod. Their shows were insane with people just losing it in the crowd.  Ben, the singer could guide/uplift/control the crowd in an amazing way. I found a way to get to every show of theirs that I could…from some tiny hall on Cape Cod, to a show in someone's bedroom in New Bedford, or a real club show in Boston. I was fully committed to being a part of the Chilmark experience.

That feeling of being part of something special has stuck with me through my 25 years of participation in the New Bedford hardcore scene. In the late 90's until around 2001 we had an all ages venue at an AA club called Reflections. We (the kids) built the stage in the room, we had benefit shows to buy air conditioners for summer shows, we had national and local bands playing in our city.

Even in the present day that feeling remains. So many people I grew up with in the scene, now own local skate shops, restaurants and coffee shops, it's great to be here. Also, Brian Simmons who runs Atomic Action Records resurrected his label again and he is a major contributor to our local music scene, and a great friend. Both HH and SJ are on Atomic Action and since they are such a cool grassroots label (and also organic farmers) I feel very special and satisfied to be a part of that as well. 

I'm curious about your musical mentioned getting into stuff from a pretty young age, at what point did you pick up an instrument and start playing in bands?

My musical journey began with guitar around 1989 when I was 12…my friend Marc and I started playing music together but could never find a drummer! We once played a basement show with no drummer, just Marc screaming, me on guitar and our friend Brian playing bass. It was weird, but still a cool memory! We finally materialized into a full band and I played my first show in 1993. Chilmark was headlining and all of my favorite local bands at the time were also on the bill (including Ryan from Holy Hands' old band and Atomic Action records alumni called Third Age). It was a great show, and a benefit for our high school photo club! Shortly after that we stopped playing and I went through a 3-year lull of playing music.

I was still a very active show goer, and had become really close friends with Ben Coleman who used to sing for Chilmark. We decided to start a band, (called Before I Break) and after tiresome searching for a bass player, I decided to buy a bass. I bought a 1983 Fender American Precision Bass (that I still use today). That moment ultimately brought me to where I am today. Ironically, the guitarist for Before I Break was George who plays in Sweet Jesus now...we also had a band in 2000, called Voices Forming Weapons which a young Pat Flynn used to really was because of this that we started Sweet Jesus a good 14 years later! 

So you've played in all kinds of projects over the years, which one(s) would you say you are most proud of, and more importantly what lessons would you say you've learned (this could be in terms of writing, performing, recording, or just the dynamics of being in a band) that inform your work today with HH and SJ?

 I have played in so many bands, and honestly every one of them meant something to me. Most of them never left New England and we mainly put out our music ourselves. (Side note: Atomic Action actually put out the Before I Break CD in 1999.. the band had changed singers at the time). I try not to look back too much; truth be told, I have never been more satisfied musically than I am right now.

Holy Hands allows me to sing and play guitar, and challenges me to write lyrics as well as music (we are recording our best songs yet for an LP at God City with Kurt Ballou in February). Sweet Jesus gives me my hardcore fix, and I absolutely love to play bass in that band (we are currently working on a new 7" for Atomic Action). Fiddlehead allows me to approach bass in a different way; playing with my fingers instead of a pick (we have a 7" out on Lockin out, and are writing an LP right now that should be out on Run for Cover at some point).  

I would say the most important lesson I have learned is simply to never give up on your dreams. Even when I was really young watching Van Halen videos on MTV in the 80's, I dreamed of being a musician. In my mind, I have reached my goal and am still realizing my dream of being a musician. Every show I still get to play is bonus. Every song I take part in writing, another mile-marker. Every 7" or LP I can continue to create is another solid chapter in my life.  I am truly happy to be exactly where I am today. 

This is a question I'm starting to think about with regard to my mentioned you have a daughter; have you/are you planning to introduce her to hardcore and punk? On the one hand I feel like there has been at least a little bit more consciousness being raised about gender-related issues lately, but on the other hand hardcore is still primarily a sausage fest, we've recently had some pretty prominent people in our scene exposed as creeps, etc. I guess it's no different from the rest of the world where you have a lot of beautiful things existing alongside a lot of fucked up things, but is it something you want your daughter to be involved in the way you've been involved?  

I have already begun the introduction to my daughter of hardcore/punk music. Whether or not she decides to get into it is totally her decision. It is our goal to raise an empowered person who will be able to tackle whatever obstacles come her way. If she chooses to be a part of the hardcore scene, I would certainly try to guide her towards the positive end of it, in hopes that she would have that sonic assistance to make good decisions as I did.

I feel that as members of the biggest scene (the world) we know there are pros and cons to all things or good and evil in all people. Everyone, regardless of gender has to stay vigilant and learn to help one another. As both a parent and a teacher, I can see that modeling appropriate behavior is the best way to teach kids to stay on a good path. As a dad of a daughter, I hope she sees me treating her mom (and all people) with total respect and will expect that level of respect from others. If I become a father to a son, I would hope he would learn also how to respect others in the same way.

I always love to talk to fellow teachers who work in the classroom. Aside from the obvious and silly question of how do your kids react when you tell them you play in bands, I'm always curious to hear how people weave their punk experiences into their classroom, or how perhaps growing up going to shows got people thinking about going into teaching.  

As far as punk in the classroom, I tell my students that I play in bands but usually don't tell them which bands until the end of the year. Most elementary school students I have taught haven't been exposed to punk or hardcore yet.

So the SJ LP was recorded a couple years ago with J Robbins. Given the sound and apparent influences of SJ I imagine everybody was pretty stoked to work with him. What was that experience like and were there any cool stories or tidbits of wisdom he shared with you guys?

When Sweet Jesus recorded with J Robbins it was really the icing on the cake to celebrate our collective love for D.C. hardcore. Sweet Jesus formed because we all loved Swiz…so when Shawn Brown from Swiz came to do some vocals on "The Same Man" that was the cherry on top of the cake. The entire experience was fantastic; we were there in Baltimore for 3 days. We tracked 8 of the 10 songs on Day 1, and on Day 2 finished the last 2 songs and moved to vocals. Day 3 was mostly mixing.

J Robbins was a real class act guy. I love Jawbox and the later Government Issue records that he played on so it was really an honor to work with him. We went out to eat with him at night and he would tell us so many cool stories about the early 80's DC hardcore scene…his wife even baked us vegan brownies at one point, they were awesome! (George, Jim and I are vegans). Totally amazing experience, and we all absolutely love the sound we got at Magpie Cage. Actually, maybe the coolest moment was when we had just tracked the 8 first songs and the band was just winding down and one of us noticed that J had posted on Facebook that he was recording Sweet Jesus and described it as " A Rebirth of Hardcore Pride"! He was impressed that we tracked everything live together.

Lyrically, the songs on the 7" seem very down to Earth and honest (I don't think I've ever heard a punk song about the way nature can serve to calm us)...where do you draw your lyrical inspiration from, and what sort of things are you addressing on the new record? 

I am happy to hear that my lyrics are down to earth and honest. That's certainly my goal when writing. My inspiration for writing comes from every aspect of my life, love, the search for peace, truth and justice...sometimes the nucleus of a song stems from reflecting upon conversations with friends, a film I might have watched, daily activities with my daughter, life experiences (for example "The Evergreen State" is about when I lived in Seattle, WA and travelled frequently to the Olympic Peninsula, one of my favorite places on Earth), even things that have happened at school ("Be a Friend to your Friends"). For our next record, there is a song about Chilmark (the band I referenced to earlier), a song about autumn in Massachusetts, I address President-elect Trump, and continue with themes of peace, love and justice. 

You mentioned being super excited for the new HH would you compare it to the stuff on "Sweet Love"; any new wrinkles or dimensions to the sound or more of a refinement of what you guys have already established? 

I am very excited to make this LP. I feel it's the next level from "Sweet Love" mainly because it features our new guitarist Ryan, who wasn't in the band yet when we wrote and recorded the 7". I played all the guitar tracks on “Sweet Love” as we were a three piece at the time. My prediction is that if you like “Sweet Love” you will love the LP, since our sound has expanded and slightly evolved as well.

In your roughly three decades in the punk and hardcore scene, I'm sure you've seen a lot change and evolve. What would you say have been the biggest changes, and for you, what things have remained constant?

I have seen a lot of change and evolution in the hardcore scene. I have also witnessed the cyclical nature of hardcore in the way that styles (both sonically and fashion) come and go and return again. I got into hardcore when cassettes were big. I saw the CD emerge and be usurped by MP3s, then vinyl came back and even cassettes, it's really wild! Aside from that, I would have to say the biggest changes have to do with the current ability to trade and find records online, and social media in the way you can network and communicate so easily. 

The constant is that I still can follow the musical journeys of people that started it all, or that I discovered at the beginning of my journey. Ian MacKaye is one of the few people that I have consistently felt I could look up to. I am so happy to know he is still out there making music and continuing with Dischord. I admire his unwavering consistency in his approach to life and music. 

Walter Schreifels as well. I have followed him since Gorilla Biscuits, I saw Quicksand come up, and now both bands have returned again. I loved Rival Schools too. I truly admire his incredible songwriting and the fact that he never turned his back on his roots in hardcore. Ever heard his cover of "The Storm" by Judge? It's incredible. 

Lastly, I know I have felt music has always spoken to me, and I actually feel like it's gotten more important to me over time rather than the other way around. For you, as a guy with a career, a family, etc. what continues to draw you in and keep you excited? 

Music has always spoken to me as well. I listen to music every day, every chance I get. I almost always have a song or a riff in my head no matter where I am. Right now is an incredible time to be involved with hardcore. So many long gone bands have returned. I missed out on initially seeing a lot of the 80's bands that I grew up listening to and just assumed that was it. I had missed the boat.

Bands like Negative Approach, Gorilla Biscuits, Soul Side, Judge, etc. have all come back and I finally got to see them which was fantastic. That keeps me excited as a fan and the fact that I just cannot stop writing and playing music also keeps me involved. Having the pressures of family, life, and career it's always great to have new music and shows to look forward to.

I love the songwriting process....coming up with the skeleton of a song and watching it take full shape when everyone else in the band adds their individual sound to it. There are so many songs that I love. Songs that really put specific feelings into words and sound, and I will always have a need for that in my life. 

Live photos by Reid Haithcock ( and Todd Pollack

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