IF U LIKE POWER VIOLENCE, U WILL HEART BLACK ARMY JACKET
As many of you know, I am the definitive authority on 90s power violence (if you don’t believe me, read this and weep). And no discussion of that topic would be complete without mentioning the legendary Black Army Jacket, one of the few bands in the genre who represented the East Coast. Aside from being power violence icons, they’re also genuinely nice dudes — a rarity in a scene often defined by uptight, stuck-up PC dickholes. Bassist Carlos Ramirez was kind enough to answer some of my stupid questions about their upcoming reunion shows, the bad old days of the 90s, and why hair metal is great.
For any readers who are not familiar with Black Army Jacket (I am guessing that is everybody other than you and me), please tell us a little about the band- past, present, and future.
Ouch! I met Andrew Orlando, the guitarist, at a Fugazi show. We bonded on our love for the Karate Cherry Coke 7”… haha! Anyway, he talked to me about a “grindcore” project he wanted to start. He had just been kicked out of the band Milhouse. Black Army Jacket formed in late 1995, and our first demo came out in the beginning of 1996. The original line-up featured a drummer named Dan Crowell who went on to play in bands like Hail Mary and Matt Pond PA. We also had a second bass player named Chris Russo. I guess we were trying to bite the Man is the Bastard thing of having two bassists! Anyway, we recorded a bunch of stuff with that version of the band. The songs came out on a series of 7”s, splits, and compilations.
Dan and Chris both quit at the same time, so we then got Dave Witte on drums. Our singer, Rob Lawi, asked him to fill in for a tour of the West Coast we had booked earlier. He decided to stay in the band once we played a few shows with him. That version of BAJ is the one most people are familiar with. We toured a lot and recorded an album plus other stuff for various releases. We had a big advantage in having Andrew in the band, because he had a label called Reservoir Records and a zine he did with Gary from Noothgrush called Monkeybite. That helped us on the networking side of things. Having Witte on drums didn’t hurt either. We broke up in 1998 and we decided to do these reunion shows for fun.
BAJ at the legendary Stalag 13, 1997
With BAJ reuniting, many readers will expect other B-level, also-ran power violence bands to pop up. If Noothgrush, Burned Up Bled Dry, Combatwoundedveteran, CR or Suppression start playing again, should we blame you?
C.R. actually already did a reunion show last year! Maybe we can all do a tour of the States called “B-Level Powerviolence Legends Across America.” We could have MetalSucks sponsor it — they’ll put their names on anything. If they don’t want to do it for some reason — there’s always Monster Energy Drinks. It would be a lot of fun! We could get Deep Six or Satan’s Pimp Records to put together a compilation for it with all proceeds going to Food Not Bombs. How 1996 is that for you?!
You are all grown-ass men with real jobs, how were you able to take time off to tour? Are you quitting your big-time Hollywood job and working part-time at Mike Inhuman’s comic book store to make ends meet when you’re not on the road?
Who said anything about touring? We’re just doing the Virginia and NYC shows for now. I live out in Los Angeles now, so I would love to do a show here and in San Francisco at some point. But who knows if that will ever happen? I’ve known Mike Inhuman since the early ‘90s, but I haven’t seen him in years. I hear good things about his store. I remember we drove out to Deer Park, Long Island to go see Cannibal Corpse, Cynic, and Sinister, play on their tour. I think it was around 1994 or so. Cynic had some chick doing the “death metal” vocals and it was a bum out. She might have been from the band Mythic or something. I don’t care what anyone tells me – Cynic were better when Paul wasn’t doing those treated, robotic vocals. The demos were so fucking great!
Many point to the era in which BAJ came up as the point where power violence was ruined by an influx of vegan emo kids and other No Fun Club-types who read Heartattack and “don’t even own a TV.” What are your thoughts on how the scene changed back then?
My first real introduction to that scene was playing in Black Army Jacket. My background was in death and thrash metal. I actually first met Dave Witte when he was in Human Remains and I interviewed him for a zine I did in high school called Extremities. So when BAJ would play these basement and Heartattack-like kinds of shows – it was something I wasn’t used to. My biggest issue with that side of the scene was the PC police aspect of it. I never felt that comfortable around certain people in that world. That said, the vast majority of people at the shows, and in the bands, weren’t like that. People like Dan from Spazz and Pete from Benumb became lifelong friends. Come to think of it – the people who grew up in metal where the ones that I always gravitated towards.
File under “STUFF I WOULD HAVE JIZZED OVER IN HIGH SCHOOL.” Also, it is a little-known fact that I drew the Monster X logo that they used on that 7″ they did on Ebullition
As many people know, you are a huge, non-ironic fan of 80s hair and shred metal. Like you, I think this genre is underrated, and has a lot more to offer than serving as the punchline to tired jokes. What would you tell someone to convert them to a fan of the genre?
It’s a huge mountain to get over. The most obvious thing would be the imaging. I was always in the middle of arguments with my metalhead friends. There was a few of us who loved what people refer to as hair or glam metal, and we had no problem admitting it. My close-minded friends would go off on the way the bands looked and never give bands like Lillian Axe or Bang Tango a chance. I think there are a lot of younger readers here who might dig some of those bands, if they gave it a shot. Since that kind of music isn’t a commercial factor anymore – maybe kids can go into the experience with less of a prejudice.
Just like death or black metal – there are a lot of different kinds of hair/glam metal. I actually use the term “hard rock” to describe these bands. But yes, there is a lot of variety. There’s the ultra-poppy stuff like Poison and Jailhouse. Then you have the bluesy ones like Cinderella and Britny Fox. I could go on and on.
Some of the lesser-known acts that MetalSucks readers should check out include Icon (2nd and 3rd albums are essential), Kik Tracee, Leatherwolf, and TNT. All of those bands feature a top-notch vocalist and lead guitarist.
I grew up worshipping the bands from the generation before me- Youth of Today, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Judge, etc. Somehow I never dreamed that the bands from our generation would be worshipped by the kids who came after us, but it happened. How do you feel about people like Alex Bigman of Fight Fair who are 10 years younger than us and jock all the shitty hardcore/screamo/”skramz” bands we saw play basement shows in the 90s?
I think that happens with every generation of music geeks. For example, I worship a lot of ‘70s acts like Starz and Detective, even though they weren’t even around when I started going to shows in the ’80s. There’s always a mystique to groups that formed and dissolved before you even discovered them. I’m not surprised that younger kids want to know more about those kinds of screamo bands (Orchid, Constatine Sankathi). Back in the day, I even liked some of them. I’m not sure if Rye Coalition would fall under that umbrella, but their early stuff was so great! It was before they got all “rock and roll” on us. Check out their Troubleman Limited 7” for proof. That’s a fantastic record.
Please give me your thoughts on each of the following videos:
Merauder “Master Killer”
The song is dope! The mosh riff around the 2 minute mark has been jocked by many current bands. As much as Jorge is a tight vocalist, I still prefer the demos where Minus was singing. Speaking of Minus – he is one of those guys who lived up to all the stories that have been said about him throughout the years. He was a menace at L’Amour’s in Brooklyn in the early ’90s. Have you heard the Merauder demos with Eddie from Leeway singing? It’s interesting to check out, but his voice didn’t fit the material that well. I think you might have even sent me the files for those. I can’t remember.
Pretty Boy Floyd “Rock N Roll”
I remember when Headbanger’s Ball premiered this little piece of magic. Everything about it works for me. The song is so over-the-top in its quest for hookiness. Steve Summers has the snotty kind of vocal style that fits this kind of style so well. It reminds me of Taime Downe (Faster Pussycat) with a little of early Bret Michaels thrown in. Kristy Majors has a cheap guitar tone that sounds like it’s coming out of some crappy solid state amp that he picked up at Sam Ash. Either way, it does the trick. I remember one of the guys in the band was wearing a Voivod shirt in a photo in Metal Edge magazine circa 1991. I should be kicked in the gut for remembering that!
You might know already, but Howard Benson produced this song. The guy has made millions working with bands like Daughtry, My Chemical Romance, and Kelly Clarkson.
Fight Fair “Pop Rocks”
These are the kind of hot chicks that I never saw at Black Army Jacket shows back in the day. Is this a commercial for Old Navy? No, it’s OK for what it is. I love a lot of pop punk, but this band’s songwriting isn’t there yet. They should work with some outside writers like Butch Walker, Jamie Woolford, and Mitch Allan. Either way – they probably have sex with hot 18 year olds.
Evildead “Annihilation of Civilization”
I bought this on vinyl because it had that sick Ed Repka artwork on the cover. Back in the late ‘80s and early ’90s, if Repka did it, I bought it. I did the same thing with Paul Stottler who did all the Sacred Reich artwork. Hugh Syme had a distinct style too. He did stuff for Whitesnake, Alias, and Fates Warning, and I would buy anything he did as well.
Back to Evil Dead – they look those Mexican guys you see at every shitty metal show out here in L.A. Do you remember that NYC band Disassociate? They had a song called “Mexican in a Suffocation T-Shirt.” I wish Black Army Jacket had a song title that was that cool. For the record – my father is from Colombia and my mom is from Ecuador. The funny thing is that in NYC white people just call Hispanics Puerto Rican. Out here in Los Angeles, they just assume you are Mexican.
I grew up in Queens, on the border of Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. Back in the mid to late ‘80s, Leeway were gods there. They were like our version of Biohazard – which brings me to my next story. I went to go see a show Exodus/Leeway/Biohazard show at L’Amour’s in Brooklyn in 1989. At that time, Biohazard were getting big in the tri-state area. But they didn’t have an album out yet. Leeway already had Born to Expire in stores. Anyway, Biohazard opened the show and Evan starting talking shit about having to be the first band to play. I guess he felt that since they were in Brooklyn, they should have gotten home turf respect or some shit.
When Leeway came on stage, they DESTROYED! I have never seen them play with that much intensity. Instead of shit talking, Eddie just took command and made Biohazard look silly.
This video comes off Desperate Measures, the second album. I love that record, but it’s like when Slayer released South of Heaven after Reign in Blood. Catch my drift?
Much to the chagrin of many readers of this site, metalcore and deathcore are hugely popular these days. Personally, I am kind of on the fence with this stuff- I don’t hate it, but I don’t really LIKE it either. As a Hollywood insider/elite member of the music industry, why do you think these genres have blown up so quickly, and what does the future hold for them? The next nu-metal flash in the pan, or game-changers ala 80s hip hop?
I don’t know about that “Hollywood insider/elite member of the music industry” bullshit, but I will chime in with an opinion. I never feel comfortable dismissing an entire musical movement. I don’t like 98% of the bands associated in that genre, but that’s OK. I don’t understand people who waste so much energy complaining about deathcore – or whatever else you can call it. I’d rather spend my time talking about bands that I love.
Why is deathcore popular? I think a lot of it comes down to kids wanting to have something all their own. Just like there are people who love looking to the past for their musical heroes, there is that faction of kids who prefer to be loyal to current scenes. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to change the face of modern rock, but it will certainly be around for a while.
That’s it for me — thanks for your time! Anything you would like to add?
I hope everyone can come out to the reunion shows. The first show will be at this year’s Best Friends Day festival in Richmond, VA on August 19th. The NYC one is on September 4th at the Cake Shop.
Since I’m normally on the other end of these things, I’d like to take this rare chance to thank the following people in the metal community for being so great to work with.
Much gratitude to Sergeant D, Axl and Vince at MetalSucks, Seth at Noisecreep, Aidan at SMNnews, Jason at TheGauntlet, Andrew at Ultimate-Guitar, Steve Joh at Century Media Records, Vince and Kelli at Metal Blade, Amy and Jeremy at Roadrunner Records, Loana and Charles at Nuclear Blast USA, Matt at Tribunal/Divebomb Records, Gordon at Relapse Records, and to Rich Hall at 1000 Knives and Tony Foresta from Municipal Waste for organizing the two Black Army Jacket reunion shows.
I know it’s a bit long – but you know how much I love my lists!
Buy tickets to the Black Army Jacket NYC show
BAJ on MySpace (for the few immigrants/poor ppl who are stuck in 2005 and still use it)