Back in 2007, I did an interview for a zine in NJ called "Unite." The editor, James, was/is a Hardcore guy who's been kicking around the scene since the 1980s. He recently created a new online archive of his past interviews/articles.
Here's the text of the interview as it appears on the new site. I remain quite happy with how the conversation turned out. Please note that the text below (including typos) is taken directly from the actual original interview as it appeared in "Unite." And for clarity's sake, the "Dan" referred to below is Donato Canzonieri (Christian Death/Shadow Project).
When we first met that night at Dan’s party I felt somewhat uncomfortable around you. I couldn’t quite peg what it was but there is something about your mannerism that makes you a hard read. I’m trying to figure out where you’re coming from while at the same time I’m trying to read what’s going through your head. I was wondering how you would describe yourself and your personality.Joel:
I’ve never been asked that question before. That’s very good.James:
I try to ask the hard questions.Joel:
I am an introvert by nature and an extrovert by necessity. Nothing would make me happier in life than being able to sit down away from it all and do what I know I was made to do. Unfortunately the real world doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you have to push yourself to work with people whether you’re in the best state of mind to do so or not. I guess you could say I am selectively friendly. (Laughs)
I think I need to get to know people intimately before I can become comfortable with them. I think I asked because I have a lot of my own insecurities. So sometimes when I walk away from a conversation I wonder to myself if I came off like a dick. The problem is I often worry I have. I often wonder what kind of impression I’ve left. I always hope I left a good one.Joel:
I enjoyed everyone I met at that party.James:
Another thing I found interesting is you’re a Cancer like me? What’s your date of birth?Joel:
7/17/1977 so I am thirty years of age.
“Albums that should have changed the world” Is a great concept and title for a book. It’s something that I would imagine everyone has thought of from time to time. I’m sure everyone has his or her own personal list. I know I think of it all the time. I was wondering what your concept of changing the world is. Are we talking about commercially, artistically or monetarily?Joel:
My concept breaks down into two categories. Records by established artists and acts that perhaps for one reason or another were not as recognizable or acknowledgeable among their most important works. For example Aerosmith is a great band. Some people of certain age might identify Aerosmith by albums like “Toys in the Attic” or “Rocks”. While people that are younger might identify with the Aerosmith who did “Pump” or “Grip” But very few people recognize “Rock in a Hard Place.” Which is an album I’m focusing on. A fantastic album released during a time when Aerosmiths genre of music was not commercially viable. That album came out in 1982 when New Wave was all the rage. Keyboard drenched music was very popular and a band like Aerosmith were quite frankly a dinosaur act by that time. But I think it was a very strong album and as an Aerosmith fan that it was their last great album. That was a no brainer for me. The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds”, which I feel, is their best album. This is an album that has since been recognized but might not have been the album that broke the band. It was an important album for them because it enabled them to tour the world. The band had their first U.K. chart success with the track “A Forest”. That song was their launching pad however their real success came almost a decade later with their album “Disintegration”. What’s interesting is “Seventeen Seconds” is the album that really defined their sound. The second side of the coin for this book was the relatively obscure acts that nonetheless had a tremendous impact on greater known artists. When I say that I’m thinking of bands like Rocket from the Tombs. (An early 70’s band that came out of Cleveland) David Thomas and Peter Laughner formed Pere Ubu. Johnny Blitz and Cheetah Chrome obviously became the Dead Boys. So right there you have a group of musicians responsible for some of the great American Punk music songs. You had the Dead Boys doing Sonic Reducer and Pere Ubu doing Final Solution. However those are two songs originally written and performed by Rocket From the Tombs. There are more Pere Ubu fans than there are fans of Rocket from the Tombs but R.F.T.T.’s was the progenitor for all that great music that came later. So the book is really balanced between those two sides of the coin. I had my reasons for including the bands I did. It’s a very eclectic collection that varies from bands like Aerosmith and Motley Crue to The Swans and Throbbing Gristle. I think there’s a lot for everyone in this book. Someone might pick it up for the Aerosmith chapter and learn something about Throbbing Gristle. As a music fan and collector the book also represents my music collection. Any one of the titles in the book could be stacked up on my nightstand at this moment. The book itself is scheduled for late 2008. I don’t think it’s going to be a casual read. This is something a real music fan would want to go back to time and time again.James:
Being that you’re both a musician and a music journalist I would guess that sometimes you might get the feeling your playing for both teams. How do you balance the two and stay focused?Joel:
Empathy. Because I’ve been in the back of vans for the better part of two decades. Because I’ve had all this shit like bad record deals, drug addict band members, bullshit promoters happen to me . And living in poverty so you can record an album. I’ve been through all of that. That’s a universal thing if you’re a real musician who wants to make it their life. I think I come into this with a better understanding because I’ve had shit up to my knees.
It’s interesting to me that I’ve had the opportunity to work from both sides of the fence,
I can empathize with the musicians I talk to. I can understand the victories, conquests and failures. I’m interested in telling a story and I can understand the story because I’ve been there myself. I think that helps me to be a better writer.
You mentioned that you had your own fanzine while you were in the fifth grade.Joel:
That was my first foray into writing about music. It was called Rolling Rock. (Laughs) This is long before I knew of the beer. It was a little Xeroxed, stapled fanzine done to benefit the student council. Our class had always done little projects to raise money.
It featured record reviews and little news tidbits about bands like Guns N Roses. I did two issues of Rolling Rock, which helped to raise thirteen dollars for the student council.
Unlike a lot of people I’ve always known what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer. I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to be able to do that. It was a lot of fun for me. It was very D.I.Y. I would sell copies at lunchtime for a quarter a piece.
One of my first memories of living in Jersey was going to CD World after work and picking up a copy of “Liner Notes” along with the latest releases. How did you end up working with them?Joel:
I had just graduated college with a degree in English. I thought to myself, “I’m off to my illustrious career as a journalist.” It didn’t quite work out as I had planned. I was finding it hard to find work in my field. So I did what most people who can’t find work do. I took a job at a fast food restaurant. So there I was driving to work at Kentucky Fried Chicken while I was freelancing. I was interviewing bands for the Aquarian and trying to make something with my life. I was desperately in need of a job in my field. One night while I was rehearsing with my band in Fairfield I came across a copy of Liner Notes. I thought, “I don’t know if they’re looking for anyone but I’ll send them a resume.” I sent them a resume and a week later I got a call from the guy who runs the company. He asked me to come in and interview for the Managing Editor position. I went in that week, did the interview and got the job. There was a week in between where I was scooping mashed potatoes on Monday and by Friday I was interviewing Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue for Liner Notes.James:
I can picture you bringing Nikki Sixx mashed potatoes from KFC. I would also bet those mashed potatoes have some of the same chemicals that he was injecting into his veins in the eighties. Joel:
I was very impressed with Nikki. A very intelligent, business minded individual. Someone who knew about the music and its history. That was a pretty impressive first interview for me. I have a very warm spot in my heart for Motley Crue till this day.
One of your early experiences was working as a fill in drummer during the reformation of the Misfits. Later you wrote “Tales of Horror” The History of the Misfits and the Undead. Did working with them give you a lot of the insight you needed for this book?
I would describe my experience with the Misfits as a very happy accident. I worked with Jerry non-stop for about a year. Initially I had auditioned for them on drums. At the time I was only seventeen. The possibility of me joining the band and being a part of that world at such a young age is kind of impossible to imagine. I don’t think I could have handled it both physically and mentally at the time. I did however stay on with them for some time while they auditioned singers. I was there with them three times a week for quite some time. I got to know Jerry very well. I spent a lot of time with Jerry and Doyle. I was able to gain a lot of insight into their individual characters. Later I was able to join Bobby Steele’s band the Undead (original member of the Misfits) and he is a real character. So I got to know them as people as opposed to these cool guys on the stage.
I was able to see the positive aspects of all of them as people. I was also able to better understand the legendary conflict.
James: With all the time you spent playing, interacting and researching the Misfits and the Undead were you able to leave with a more positive view of them as people?
Joel: It was a very positive experience. Jerry Only is among the nicest, most personable, and most committed artist and individuals I’ve met. I can say the same thing about Bobby Steel. They have that in common. What they don’t have in common is their personality.
I have nothing but love for Jerry. He opened doors for me and he didn’t have too. I was a seventeen-year-old kid doing nothing. Bobby took me under his wing and introduced me to the insane beast that the music industry is. A lot of the contacts I maintain today are people Jerry introduced me to at the age of seventeen. Without Jerry I wouldn’t have joined the Undead. Without being a member of The Undead I wouldn’t have gotten into Pigface. Without those experiences I wouldn’t have been able to publish the “Tales of Horror” book.James:
Does coming into an already established band like the Undead limit your creative input and say in the way the songs are written and recorded?Joel:
The Undead is very much Bobby’s baby. He writes the songs and he runs that ship. I’m there with him and I certainly have a say but Bobby has the veto and the pass power. As far as financial terms Bobby and I have a financial agreement, which works out very well. One thing I can say about Bobby is he has never screwed me out of money. The Undead are one of the only bands I’ve ever been in that I’ve been able to prosper financially.James:
Tell me a little bit about Broken Heroes.Joel:
Broken Heroes is a New Jersey Oi band that’s been around since 1991. The bands put some records out on Headache Records a pretty well known Oi label in Jersey. I’ve known the guys for a long time now. They’ve been through a lot of member changes. I started playing with them originally in 1998. Years later I had moved back to New Jersey and we started finding one another on My Space. I really liked the current lineup they were working with and it just so happened that they needed a drummer. It just seemed like something fun to do. The band is more of a hobby for us. Our guitarist Tim is also in Blanks 77 and our Bass player plays in another band. We’re recording some tracks for a few compilations and we’re going to be doing a split 7 inch with the Undead. I will be playing on both sides. Broken Heroes is more active than the Undead but we’re more of a Hobby band. It’s a great opportunity to have fun and let me tell you “We do have fun.”James:
In some of our prior conversations we talked about publishing vs. self-publishing. I know it something that’s very important to you and I wanted to get an idea on your feeling and which works best for you.Joel:
Right now doing it myself works best for me because I’m doing exactly what I want to do. “Tales of Horror” happened because in 2006 I started talking to a very large publisher about publishing the “Albums” book. Like I’ve said in other interviews the publisher was very nice. Everyone I spoke to were very enthused by the concept and wanted to see it come to life. The problem was the bean counters and the marketing people were scratching their heads over the fact that this was a book featuring both Aerosmith and Throbbing Gristle. There wasn’t a streamlined marketing approach. They would actually have to do some work. We went back and fourth for months. I would get emails from them saying we need to cut Bill Ward from Black Sabbath but we’ll let you keep Richard Hell. I started to feel they were slicing and dicing my material. As grateful I was for the experience and the interest, I felt it was best for me to take my ball and go home and do it myself. I’m a child of Punk Rock. I’m a child of the D.I.Y. philosophy. Since it was accessible to me I started a My Space page for the book. When I started posting excerpts from the Misfits section I was getting something like 3,200 responses a day. I was getting requests from all over the world asking if I would consider doing something separate on the Misfits. It didn’t even occur to me to do that. It happened very organically. I just felt it was a good time to put something out there under my own name.
I started looking into self-publishing options for the Misfits/Undead book. From there I expanded the idea and published the Black Sabbath book. From there I have six more books in the works. I strongly believe that there are now ways to bypass the very difficult publishing game if you choose to do so. There are so many opportunities especially with the Internet to self-publish.James:
Is there any such thing as shameless self-promotion?
Joel: Absolutely not!!! There is no such thing. Martin Atkins said it best “if you’re not taking advantage of your opportunities someone else is taking advantage of their opportunities.”
If you’re Punk Rock you have no other choice but to promote yourself. There is absolutely no shame in surviving. There’s no shame in surviving and evolving as a person. Personally I’ve never been one to ask anyone else for any help. So if anything I do comes off as shameless…. tough titties.
James: How did the idea for the Prong book come about? I ask this because I can think of countless other bands that were more popular, more influential and more known.
Joel: Prong was a band I wanted to write about in the “Albums” book. (Specifically the album “Beg To Differ”.) Since I had heard it back in the very early 90’s it’s remained one of my favorite albums of all time. While considering my wish list for albums I wanted to include in the book Prong was immediately an integral part. I set about contacting all of the musicians who were in prong at the time I was really pleased to discover that they were all really nice guys. They were amongst the most giving participants in anything I’ve done. They were so willing to share their experiences with me. I can’t say enough about the people from that camp. Ted Parsons who was the original drummer was one of the nicest people I ever met. Mike Kirkland actually did the cover for the first edition of the book. Mike was in Damage before Prong. They were a great band. (Damage featured two Bass players. (Their CBGB “live off the board” tape is highly regarded and sought collectors item.) Steve McAllister went on to produce some great stuff including the Swans. Ten there was Pat Blanck from the Undead was the drummer. One of the coolest things about doing the Prong book was I got to know Troy Gregory who played Bass in Prong during the early 90’s and was from a band called Flotsam & Jetsam. Troy is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and I consider him a very good friend. I started doing what I had done with the Misfits material from the “Albums” book. . I was posting excerpts from my interviews. The results were very favorable. I have a lot of respect for the band and more power to Tommy Victor for keeping the band together through the years. I think the new album is the best stuff they’ve done in years.
James: The Warzone book is something that I think a lot of people are interested in seeing. Considering Ray’s popularity and the fact that he died so young. How did the concept come about and were you a big fan of the band?
The idea came about when I did the “Oral History of Warzone” for the fanzine “Define the Meaning.” Karen Mitchell who is one of the editors contacted me on My Space about a year ago to see if I’d be interested in writing for them. The week before she contacted me Broken Heroes had played a show with Murphy’s Law in Asbury Park. I remember seeing a copy of DTM at the show and looking through it. I thought it was a great zine. I felt that they were really on to something. I think the writing is very good. I think their knowledge of both old and new is very strong. She told me “Why don’t you try to contribute something.” I said, “Why don’t we do something on Warzone?” At the time it was just around the tenth anniversary of Ray’s death. I think Warzone needs to be remembered. (Especially today) I think they were very well respected as a band in both the united States and Europe. They were also a band that should have been more acknowledged for their contributions. I went about working on the Oral History of Warzone to remember the tenth anniversary of Ray’s passing. We did a two-part oral history for Define The Meaning. I still had a ton of stuff to work with and at that point I felt I had enough stuff to do a book about the oral history of the band. It’s something I plan to have out in January. Looking back I wanted to have it out by September 11th, which was the actual anniversary of his death. It just wasn’t logistically possible at the time. All proceeds from the book will go to two charities. Street Works which is a Homeless/A.I.D.S. organization that Ray was very active in, The second part of that is Architecture for Tibet which is an organization that John Omen (former Warzone Bassist) is heavily involved in. John has been a tremendous participant and very active in providing information, photos and just putting the pieces together. So it’s appropriate that these funds go to charities that Ray was very involved with and a former member (John Omen) is very involved with. One of the key factors to this books proceeds going to charity is I have a lot of issues with people making money off of dead musicians.
I felt the best way to honor Ray, Warzone and there contributions to the Hardcore scene would be to honor what they stood for and what they supported. I think a lot of Hardcore bands sing about their rage and Warzone did that. It’s just that Ray did something more to help out and make a difference. I think that needs to be celebrated a lot more.
James: What was the most interesting or shocking thing you learned about Ray while doing this book?Joel:
I think that anyone who knew or worked with Ray will tell you that he was a conflicted person. He didn’t always walk the walk when he talked the talk. The overriding message I received from people was he had his struggles which by in large he overcame. He was much like all of us a flawed human being. What’s nice is most people remember Ray as someone who did his best to live up to what people made him out to be. He brought a lot of positive aspects to the Hardcore scene. He was not a saint by any means. Friends will tell you he made his mistakes and did some not so great things. But at the end of the day he honestly tried.
We all know that the music industry is fucked up almost beyond repair. As a writer and a musician I was curious as to your thoughts on what’s wrong and how we fix it.Joel:
I think we’ve reached a very interesting time in the business of music. The traditional model of getting into a band, cutting a demo and signing a deal and becoming rich is nonexistent now. The music industry itself is experiencing a lot of lay offs at major companies because their revenue has been drastically affected by illegal downloading.
My complaint is a lot of artists are not really utilizing the tools that are right in front of them. There are still bands out there that think if they follow the 1970’s guideline of success they’re going to get it. They’re not going to. You see so many bands that sign record deals, release their major label debut and six months later are back working at the construction jobs they had before the deal.
They go off on tour and their A&R guy gets fired. They have no representation at the record label. There’s no promotion and their dreams are totally smashed. It’s ludicrous to do that in 2007. I think it’s more important now than ever for bands to do things on their own. I think that can be said for a lot of Punk bands. There are still young bands out there looking for a label. Why? Why is that even an issue? Currently there are tens of thousands of bands doing the My Space thing, and promoting themselves. The bands that are serious need to do more to get their message across. I think both bands and music fans have become lazy. Bands think if they get a My Space page they’ll be huge. Well it doesn’t happen that way. You can use My Space to your advantage but you’ve really got to work it. The only difference between 2007 and 1997 is instead of going out and putting up flyers on every available space you’re putting up bulletins on My Space.
You have to work just as hard but you’re working in a different medium. I think people need to realize that more. I think it’s a combination of people thinking they’ll succeed using outdated methods and those who are just plain lazy. For instance when Broken Heroes still play a lot of the underground Punk Rock clubs where you’ll see a lot of fifteen and sixteen year old kids. I remember how it was in the past where you’d go to a show and you’d buy every shirt, every 7-inch and every comp that was on the merch table. Because even if you only liked that band a little bit you believed enough in what they were doing to give that three to ten dollar commitment to their survival. What I see now is no one is buying anything at these shows. Maybe their thought it “Well, there’s going to be five other bands tonight anyway so I can just go home and download their stuff anyway.” So I am not seeing that personal connection and I see less of that ritual of buying an actual tangible item. I have an option for everything I publish where you can buy either the physical copy or the download. If I had my choice I would just do the published, printed version because I’m still a stickler for having something in my hands that I can feel and touch. But if I didn’t have a downloadable version it would adversely affect my success as a publisher. I myself had to awaken to the fact that people are just downloading stuff now. As far as fixing the music business if you want to fix anything you have to corrupt it from within. If you don’t like what’s happening you should build something yourself, something that works for you. A lot of people are incensed by the fact that Rupert Murdock owns My Space. I can see that point but at the same time what’s more Punk Rock than doing a book or selling a CD on a My Space page and making money off of the back of a company that’s owned by Rupert Murdock?
There’s just such a lack of fire these days. There’s a lack or perseverance and ingenuity. We’re not talking about fifteen minutes of fame anymore. We’re talking about fifteen seconds. People are being bombarded by so many things that you have to work extra hard to get your message out. Fixing things doesn’t mean helping the record execs line their pockets with more money; it’s about the musicians taking back the power.