SICK OF IT ALL’S LOU KOLLER: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Sick Of It All has been representing New York hardcore for well over two decades, refusing to become a nostalgia act by regularly releasing albums of new material. Whether you love them for their rough and riotous initial records, the more accessible punkier albums during their Fat Wreck Chords days, or the heavy metallic sounds of their 21st century records, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the voice of frontman Lou Koller. With the fierce and undeniably memorable Based on a True Story, Sick Of It All show no signs of mellowing as they mature, as the below interview indicates.
I’ve actually been seeing you around quite a bit, showing up as a special guest at a number of New York shows lately. I saw you at H2O at the Gramercy, the Killing Time record release at the Knitting Factory. It seems that you’re chomping at the bit to be back onstage again.
Yeah, we just did a bunch of dates over the winter with the Dropkicks [Murphys] in Europe, and we just went to England with AFI. We’re just waiting for the album to come out before we play New York. I really want to get back to playing.
I’ve heard the record, and it’s really strong. What really impresses me about it is that this is still the same lineup from 1993. How have you guys managed to stay intact together all these years while so many of your peers have disbanded, or the lineups have changed?
For us, I don’t know. I think it’s the fact that there’s no animosity between us. We all get along well, and I think the way we do that is we just constantly make fun of each other. Nothing is really taboo, and I think that’s our secret.
What’s the logic of naming the new record Based on a True Story?
We were trying to come up with another strong name like Death to Tyrants where you knew what you were going to get. Based on a True Story came about because several of the songs are based on stuff that happened to us growing up within our own lives. I just thought it was a cool idea to call the record that. It is a good, strong name, so that’s why we chose it.
Speaking of Death to Tyrants, this [new album] definitely has kind of a metallic feel like that record, but it’s still undeniably a New York Hardcore record. How do you guys kind of reconcile this heavier side of the band with some of the releases you guys did back in the Fat Wreck Chords days?
I think with Fat Wreck Chords, we were trying to find our sound–like our live sound. We were always trying to get it on record. We tried different things. With Call to Arms we were like “forget samples, forget trigger drums, let’s just go raw,” and it came out way too punk. There are some heavy songs on that album, but they sound punk just because of the production… When we started hanging out and talking to [producer] Tue [Madsen] about doing the record, he was saying that “I really want to get your live feel down.” He did it on Death to Tyrants, and then he told us if we could go to Denmark “I could do it even better”. We tried it out, and I think we did. Based on a True Story sounds ten times bigger than Death to Tyrants.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Dirty Money.” It reminds me of that recent Supreme Court decision that basically says that corporations are now people and can spend as much money as they want on a political campaign. How much of that concerns you guys?
A lot. There’s a movie called Corporate that you could watch. It’s funny how corporations went from being the scorn of America to running politics. With that being said, they have carte blanche and they can do whatever they want. So it really scares the crap out of me.
I noticed that you only have a couple of U.S. shows lined up right now. Is that intentional or are you going to do a proper U.S. tour this year?
We’re only doing a few because me and my wife are having our first child in little less than a month actually.
Thank you, thank you. For me, I would be like “okay, let’s just tour,” but my wife wouldn’t be too happy with it. Our drummer, having experienced that already with two kids, he’s like “you have to be home for a certain amount of time.” So we’re doing a couple of East Coast dates, a couple of festivals in Europe, and then we’re home for a month or so. We do West Coast in the summer for only a week and a half, [and] in September we’re doing a full East Coast tour. We’re going to try and roll that into a full U.S. thing.
You said you just wrapped up some dates over in Europe with AFI. What’s the response to your set from their fans?
Actually really good. They still have more of a mainstream–well not mainstream, but the more top oriented punk fans over there, but they still have some old school punk fans that were there who were really loving us. By the second song, we had the whole place going crazy, even the little girls up front. I would say “don’t be scared. It’s going to get loud. It’s going to get fast but don’t be scared.” I would make them laugh, and by the end of the night we won a lot of people over. We sold a lot of merch and that’s a good thing.
That’s great! I know because [AFI’s] sound has changed so much over the years, it was interesting when I saw that you guys were playing together.
They definitely progressed. To me, I love everything they’ve done. Crash Love, their last record, I was really into. Some of the old school fans weren’t too happy with it, but they’re still a great live band. We’ve always been friends. We took them out on their first two U.S. tours, their first two European tours, and they’re just repaying the favor which is great. A lot of bands don’t do that.
Speaking of that, are there new or up and coming bands in the hardcore scene that you’re getting excited about these days?
Oh there’s a lot. There’s a young band from PA called My Turn to Win, and it’s kind of like their take on old school hardcore but it sounds so fresh. There are bands like Ruiner… can’t think of all of them right now. [laughs] There are still a lot of good bands out there.
Are you thinking about taking any of those groups on tour with you guys when you tour later on this year?
Some of them are playing the New York show. We have Maximum Penalty, who is an older New York band, but they put out a record recently which was great. I like when an old school band still has fire enough to write a record that excites you. So we have Maximum Penalty on the NY show, This is Hell (from Long Island) is another good young band that’s out. So yeah, we’re going to try and get a bunch of young bands. We always do that. We try to mix it up, like not just the heavy, thug hardcore band or whatever that everybody is talking about. We try to get some bands that are more melodic in there too and mix it up.
That makes sense given that you guys have that mix of really heavy stuff but [also] really catchy gang vocal things where everyone is screaming along. I understand why you would want to have an opening lineup that represents both of those.
Yeah, yeah. I understand from when I was 15 or 16, I was into being fast. Anything like D.R.I. or stuff like that, so when somebody tried to play something more melodic, I was like “I don’t want to hear it.” As you get a little older, you start to open your mind. I’m just hoping that that happens with our fans when we take different bands like that out together. One of the best tours we did was in 1999, we were headlining and we took out AFI, Hot Water Music, and Indecision. I was never so happy when we played Orange County, CA, and Indecision went on. I saw kids with Blink 182 shirts doing a circle pit for one of the heaviest hardcore bands ever. I was so psyched to see that.
That sounds amazing. That lineup sounds amazing, actually.
That was a good tour, man.
You mentioned D.R.I. A lot of people praise the early-to-mid-eighties hardcore groups… Do you feel that the stuff that came after that first wave gets the respect and credit it deserves?
It depends. D.R.I. was still touring for years, and they would play to almost nobody. Then all of a sudden a band like Municipal Waste breaks big. For some reason, everybody took to Municipal Waste, and they’d say “hey, if you like us, check out fucking D.R.I.” I went to the D.R.I. show in New York, it was a Sunday night, and these guys sold out a club on a rainy Sunday night. I was amazed… I think it was great that Municipal Waste praised bands like that, I think a lot of that would be lost. It’s a shame.
Sick Of It All’s Based On A True Story is out now on Century Media.