Let’s start with the reunion show you recently played in DC. As a musician, and as bad as it sounds, it’s almost reassuring to see that you guys still get nervous when they get on stage.
You know what’s really funny about that is that Steve never used to get nervous before a show. But for this one, all of us to some degree were a little more edgy before this show than we were for any of the other before. When you do a reunion show there’s a lot riding on it. Especially like the one we just did, because let’s face it, you got two groups of people who have really high expectations. One group is the folks that came up with you and saw you back in the day. They’re showing up because they want to see something that is in line with what you were doing when the band was a fully operational band that was playing every weekend basically and going up and down the east coast on a regular basis, going on tour every summer, and that kind of thing. The weekend before the show was the first time all of us had been in the same room in 16 years. So you know, there’s nervousness based on that because you know those people had seen you before and you know that their expectations are high. Then the second group of folks showing up are the ones that have never seen you but they know about you through reputation. They know that the band was known for its live show and could reliably throw down, which again is a pretty heavy expectation there. The thing is if you have a mediocre night then every one says for the next, however many years, ‘Man those guys sucked when they did that reunion show.’ I know what that’s like. I’ve been to those reunion shows and that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t done a bunch of them and didn’t do one for a long time. After you go to a few reunion shows where it basically blows, you don’t want to be that band. You feel very fortunate that you never were that band, but you don’t want to be that. You don’t want to risk that. I remember I saw a Stiff Little Fingers show on their first reunion tour. They were always one of my favorite bands and they were just so horrible that for probably about a solid two years, I couldn’t listen to any of their music without thinking back to how bad that show was.
I’ve done that before.
That only happened about a year after the last reunion show that we did in ’95. And after you see something like that you say to yourself, ‘Goddamn, we were really lucky. What if that happened to us?!’
I think that if I ever played a reunion 15 years later and every one says we should’ve stayed ‘un-reunited,’ I would sit in a dark room and not talk to any one for a month straight.
You never want to be the band where people say, ‘God, they’re still together? They used to be really good, but they’re still together now?’ You don’t want to be that band. And you also don’t want to be the band where people say, ‘Did you see that reunion? That really shouldn’t have happened.’ You don’t want to do that because you’re letting people down.
That is something I hear about the Bad Brains a lot. Some friends refuse to go because it’s going to ruin the band, or that ‘H.R. is a shell of a man.’ Maybe he’s not doing back flips anymore but I’m glad I had the opportunity to see them once in my life, even if it wasn’t at their prime. So I guess there’s a bunch of different ways to look at it.
I have to tell you, I kind of know what you mean. I remember I saw Bad Brains do one of their reunion things at the 9:30 club. It was a huge, sold out show and I was pumped up because I used to see them once a month when they played around D.C. all the time.
Oh I was fucking lucky. Make no mistake. A lot of us were lucky as a result. But it was really a weird night. My wife came with me because she got turned onto to them after the fact. So when they did one of their reunion things I asked her to come with me. And if you closed your eyes, they sounded amazing. But if you opened your eyes, I remember that night H.R. just stood in front of the mic stand and didn’t move a muscle. And it was like on one hand you can make the argument that it’s all about the music, but on the other hand you kind of want to get the sense that the people that are doing it are into it.
Yeah, that they enjoy being there.
Or just into it and excited. It was just weird.
Tell me about the beginning. Two of you guys were in Toasterhead, three of you guys were in Artificial Peace so about what those bands sounded like and how you guys merged together to form Marginal Man.
I’m kind of surprised that you’ve obviously done your homework. I’m surprised that Toasterhead even came into the equation here because basically all that was something me and some of my friends did for the hell of it. I think we had a total of two songs. I mean it really didn’t go very far at all. Of course, Mike, Pete, and Steve were in Artificial Peace. The way that I got on their radar was that I used to go to their shows all the time. So I knew them from going to their shows and I just knew them from being around town and stuff. At that point when Flex Your Head had come out and all that sort of the thing, the scene was really cool and very strong. There was a lot of stuff going on but there really weren’t a lot of people involved. I mean, there was a lot of people involved if you stopped to consider every one was kind of doing something. Every one was in a band or they were putting out a fanzine or they were some how putting shows together. They were doing these parties where bands would play. There were a lot of people if you stopped to think every single person was involved some how. But when you start talking to people that lived in L.A. or New York or what not, all of a sudden you start realizing we didn’t have a lot of people. I mean, you’d have a show and there’d be like 20 or 30 people there and out of those 30 people maybe half of them were in bands that were playing that night. So I knew those guys from being around and at one point, I heard through the grapevine, and I wasn’t supposed to know this, but I did find out that Mike, Pete, and Steve were considering either breaking up or leaving Artificial Peace or whatever. The point being that they were thinking of starting something else. And I ran into them at a friend’s house and I said, ‘I know that I’m not supposed to know this, but I heard that you guys were thinking of starting something new. If that’s the case, I would like to put myself on your radar.’ And I offered myself up to play bass and said, ‘Look, I don’t own a bass, but I can play and if it came down to it I’d buy one because I’d be into it.’ And they knew that I knew how to play guitar.
Were they kids you looked up to when they in Artificial Peace or were you guys all in the same age group?
I was younger than them in the sense that they were all about one to three years older than me, which, at that age, is a lot.
Yeah. I don’t think a lot of people think about stuff like that, but here you are asking to play with guys you used to see all the time.
And that’s very much the case here and months and months went by after that little conversation and next thing you know I’m at a show at the Wilson Center. It was actually a show that had the BYO tour where you had Social Distortion and Youth Brigade traveling together. So if you watched Another State of Mind, that D.C. date is where Marginal Man was formed. Because Mike, Pete, and Steve saw me at that show, pulled me aside, and said, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you. We’re putting something new together and want to know if you’d be interested in practicing with us?’ So I said ‘Hell yeah!” and I was even more excited by the fact that they wanted me to play guitar because they said they wanted two guitars in this thing. And at the time, there were no bands that had two guitar players and they said that was the point.
And that was one of things mentioned on Dischord’s bio of you guys. They talked about how two guitars weren’t a thing at all in the D.C. Hardcore scene at all.
Not at all. Because the D.C. Hardcore thing was very straightforward. The sound of D.C. bands were pretty much typified by Minor Threat, Faith, and about the most complex or technical it would get was the Bad Brains. But even then, in all those configurations, you’re talking about one guitar. These guys were thinking about doing something a bit different. At the time, they had been practicing with Chris Stover, who played bass for Void. As it went on, Chris was having trouble keeping up with some of the stuff that Pete had been writing so that’s how Andre became the bass player. They asked me if I knew anyone and I told them my friend Andre was beginning to learn how to play. He had bought a bass a few weeks earlier and they said it was fine. So I called him up and asked him if he wanted to practice and that’s how we all got together.
Wow, you have a fantastically vivid memory. I can’t remember what I did last week.
You know, as sleep deprived as I am now that we have a daughter who’s just about a year and a half, it’s amazing when you don’t get a whole lot of sleep, your ability to remember things just goes down the drain. But when you’re talking about stuff that really left a huge impression on you, and that obviously did, you remember a lot of that stuff. I can remember all of that stuff as if it were a month or two ago.
So You got introduced to Dischord because of Artificial Peace. Was Dischord something that you were excited to be on?
As soon as the band started practicing and I started hearing what they were writing and what had already been written, I started seeing how the songs were unfolding and it dawned on me. I thought that either people were going to catch onto to this and we’re going to be able to get recorded and go on the road…or it’s just not going to catch on at all. Simply because it just is what it is. You know how you hear something, eat something, or see something but there’s the common thread to a degree and people are either going to get it or they’re not. They’re either going to latch onto it or they’re not. That was kind of the way I felt about it, I was like this is either going to work or it’s not. And if it doesn’t, well hey I still feel good about it. But if it does, all the better. At that point most of my favorite bands were on that label so it was a big deal for me to think we could end up getting recorded on Dischord. It was pretty clear early on that Ian liked us, basically from the start because our first show was opening for Minor Threat.
That was going to be my next question. How many times did you throw up before that show?
I’ll be honest with you, by the time we did that show we had practiced enough. You play so you understand that there comes a point where you’re practicing and you’re nervous about the thought of doing a show. Then there comes a point where you cross this imperceptible line where you’re practicing and you’re like, “Okay, I just want to get out there. I just want to do this. Let’s just go. Let’s just do this thing.” Because at that point you’re figuring, if it doesn’t work it’s not like being in this basement any play the set through any more times is going to make it work more. The only way you’re going to learn to do this thing is to get out there. You know what I mean?
Totally. You’ve hit the plateau where you say, “Yeah we’re going to get better in the future, but right now we’re practicing a set worth of songs.” And there are only so many times that you could practice that set.
Yeah. I mean you’re not going to get better in front of a bunch of people just by sitting in that basement a few more days and playing through the set again. You’re going to get better in front of a crowd by just getting in front of that crowd. But I’ve got to tell you though, there was a real fucking eye opener with that, which was this was back in the day before clubs did advanced tickets sales. So here we are, we’re supposed to play this matinee at the 9:30 Club and the bill was Minor Threat, Faith, and us. So we are all stoked, we are all excited. It was our first show. The only other time we had played in public before was at a friend’s party. This was in itself kind of a big step up. But then the day of the show, they didn’t have advanced tickets so people tried to come early so they could make sure that they got in. People came from all over. They didn’t just come from D.C. They came from New Jersey, they came from New York, some people even came from Boston. So the line is literally down the road and around the block. We get there and what happened was the club basically approached Ian and said, “We want to know if you’d be willing to do two sets because every one that’s in line isn’t going to fit into the club for one set. If we do two sets, every one that’s in line will get to see you.” And the thing that really impressed me was Ian basically says, “That sounds like a great idea but we’re not going to do it unless all the bands get to play, not just us.” And that left a big impression on me. It really sort of taught me this is how you do it. You do what ever you can to treat your opening bands fairly.
How old were you at that time?
That was January ’83 so at that point I was a little over 18.
Awesome. Really Awesome.
Ian was always an early promoter of ours. He honestly just dug coming to our shows, which for us was a huge thing. For a guy that grew up and got into this whole thing by going to their shows and going off at their shows and saying, “Wow, this is great!” And here they are and Ian’s telling us we’re onto something. I mean, that’s kind of a mindfuck right there. That kind of blows you away.
Yeah, I think that I would be pumped the whole time. I would probably say, “Wait. You like me? Wait. We’re just pumped to be able to open for you and stick around to see you guys play.”
There’s footage out there of us playing at the Wilson Center. I think that was maybe our fourth show and Ian was working the stage and making sure no one runs into the micstand or that there weren’t too many people on stage while we were playing.
So you played both the matinee and night show. I assume it went well?
Oh yeah! The one thing I have to underscore, and this sort of gives you the sense of nervousness we had for the reunion show which was similar to the nervousness we had in that first show, in the sense that you had two sold out sets at the 9:30 club opening up for Minor Threat. On one had that was great because you can’t ask for a better set up than that, but on the other hand if you suck, every one is going to know. If you just stink it up that night, the word is going to spread all up and down the east coast. So you had a lot riding on that gig. It was like if we play well this could be good, but it we suck it would be really, really bad. And it’s the same thing with the reunion show. Especially with the internet now, if you put on a bad show every one is going to know about it.
Have you been following up on any of the feedback from the past reunion show?
It’s been very positive. I have to confess that I’m really quite behind on getting back with a lot of folks who wrote me on Facebook and emailed me and stuff like that. Basically, two days after the show happened, I left town with the family and got overtaken by events and stuff like that. Then when we got into town I thought I would get caught up with all this correspondence. And of course, my daughter got sick, then my wife got sick then I promptly got sick. So I’ve got email and stuff from people like a month a go of people saying it was great seeing me and stuff and I haven’t had a chance to respond.
Well I’m glad we got you. The Dischord bio page talks about how you guys were one of the first touring bands of the D.C. hardcore scene. Why weren’t there a lot of people touring before you guys? What were your experiences being on tour?
I’m assuming if Ian wasn’t the one that wrote that stuff on the Dischord page, I’m sure that he had a hand in it. Ian’s a really modest guy. That’s something that a lot of people don’t really know about him. One thing that I do recall from reading that stuff on the Dischord page was thinking, “What the hell? Minor Threat toured.” That’s how we found out where all the cool places were to play and who to call. In fact, the first tour that we did, Lyle from Minor Threat said he wanted to get in more on the logistical and business end of things and wanted to help us book our first tour. He helped us out basically by calling all the folks he met touring with Minor Threat. That got us our first tour.
Oh, it’s very cool. As far as like how we ended up being one of the earlier bands to tour, in a lot of ways we kind of got lucky. By the time we started touring it was around 1984 and between ’83 and ’84 the network of places to play and the scenes were still forming. If it weren’t for bands like the Dead Kennedys or Circle Jerks or especially Black Flag going into all these different towns and big cities, bands like that wouldn’t have anything to draw from. We just fortunate in the sense that a lot of that early ground work had been laid so it was kind of up to us to take that and run with it and create more ground work for people who came after us. That first tour was amazing. You’re traveling around and you’re traveling to places you may not necessarily think of going to other than the fact that you’re playing there. And every day you’re thrust into a situation where you really start to appreciate what a big country it is and how different it is from part to part. You start to really understand things. Like Richmond, Virginia is quite different from D.C. even though it’s only an hour and a half or two away. Raleigh, North Carolina is pretty darn different from Richmond even though it’s only a few hours away. Knoxville, Tennessee is different from Raleigh even though it’s not that far away. You start realizing just how different everywhere in the country is, but at the same time as a result you start to learn to focus on what makes people similar. If you can’t establish a rapport with people in a strange city, you’re time there is going to be really, really challenging. Especially in those early days where all these different scenes were just beginning to form. If you show up somewhere and you rubbed the locals the wrong way, not only are you going to have a bad night, but other people from D.C. are going to have a bad night if they decide to go through there. Or they may not even be able to play there. So in a very real sense you’re kind of helping lay the ground work or perhaps more accurately you could potentially blow up whatever ground work had already been laid there by other people in your city.
Which I’m sure Black Flag had done their share of.
Yeah! I mean, every one has different episodes as they’re travelling. That’s just how it’s going to be. But it was amazing. The second tour we did was even more amazing to us because we had more dates and went more places. I think that second tour that we did, we did something like 31 or 32 dates in like 35 days. The thing was one of the reasons why we did that was because the on the first tour, there were a number of dates where we had like two days off or three days off or whatever.
Yeah like “Why aren’t we playing tonight?” type of thing.
Yeah. As weird or inexplicable or whatever word you want to use when you read through that Henry Rollins Get in the Van book and Henry’s saying “Downtime. I hate downtime. Sitting in the van. Sitting in that shed. Downtime, it kills you.” And I mean on one hand, you can say that’s just Henry, but on the other hand, if you’ve ever done it, you realize that he’s right.
I got to be honest, people see this certain persona of Henry. They see the persona that is communicated through the spoken word CDs, the books or whatever. And that is Henry, that’s him and that’s his deal. But if you came up in D.C. when he was still living in town, you got to see a very different side of him too. Henry is a very funny guy. He really is. If you’re ever fortunate enough to spend some time with the guy and have him in a good and funny mood, you’re in for quite a ride.
What were some of your favorite places to see?
There were a bunch of places that were beautiful, but the one that’s coming to mind was driving through the salt flats in Salt Lake City. You hear about it and you’re told it’s just the salt flats and it’s endless, white, and it’s white because it’s salt. You know that intellectually, but when you get there all of a sudden it hits you. And you think, “Wow! This is like another planet.” And that really hit me and that blew me away. You just don’t see that every day. You don’t have anything to compare that to. You have no frame of reference that’s similar to it. The other place was driving to the desert. You see just this endless strip of sand or you’re driving through and you see all these crazy rock formations. Especially if you do it at night, which you’re lucky if you do because during the day it’s really, really fucking hot. The other thing about the desert that blew me away was you could see all the stars. The sky is not this expansive black, it’s very much alive. We started having engine trouble in the desert at night, which is never a good thing because you’re in the middle of nowhere. We were out trying to figure out what was going on with the engine and some one just told us to look at the sky. And we all just sat there staring at the sky for 10 or 15 minutes.
I was down in Arizona a couple of years ago and my buddy took me outside of Tucson. And he was telling me that the city of Tucson has light pollution laws, where every light has to have a cover on it. As we were going outside of the city that we would never see stars like these in our life. It was really mind blowing and we sat up there for about a half hour. And I told him “Why do you have to be so deep all the time? Why did you have to make it so profound so I really get effected by it?”
But they were right, right?
100%. And it was mind blowing. What were some bands that blew your socks off?
The first show we did on our first tour was in Richmond. I remember the band that opened up for us was a band called Death Piggy. And Death Piggy had this sort of weird, quirky sense of humor. I liked them so much that I immediately bought their single after their set. Death Piggy was headed up by a guy named Dave Brockie. I remember talking to him about a year or two after that and he was talking about what he wanted to do with his next band, which involved all these people wearing costumes and they were be a theme that they were from outer space or Antarctica or something like that. And I was thinking that’s really interesting and complicated and didn’t know if it would ever work. It did and every one knows that band now as GWAR.
When we pulled into Raleigh, N.C., the guys that put on the show were playing in a band called Corrosion of Conformity and they were amazing. They ended up playing a bunch of shows with us actually, because we ended up playing with them in Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
Austin was another city where a band we played with left an impression on me because we got to play with the Big Boys. The Big Boys were some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. The funny thing about them was when Lyle booked all the shows, he compiled all the dates into this little booklet giving us a little summary of who our contact is in this city, what their phone number was, what the details of the show were and each show had a little notes section of things you might want to know. For the Austin dates it says, “You’re playing with the Big Boys. You guys are going to have a lot of fun. Under no circumstances do you allow them to talk you into having them open for you. That would be a very big mistake.” And that was because the Big Boys offered to open for Minor Threat when they were in Dallas, and they blew Minor Threat off the stage. They were an amazing band, especially on their own turf. Armed with that knowledge, we just said “No, no, no. This is your town and it’s billed so you guys should just headlined. We want to see you guys play anyway.” And when they hit the stage, it was like a bomb went off in that place. People just went off. And I immediately thought to myself, “Damn right we’re not going to let them open for us!” So that was great.
I had seem them before, but when we played in San Francisco, we opened for the Dead Kennedys and I came to the realization of two things during that show. Number one was that they were an amazing band. But the other thing that I realized as I was watching them was that this music, hardcore, punk, whatever you want to call it, was going to be huge. I was watching these people in the crowd and I don’t know a more delicate way of putting it, but basically a lot of the people going off for the Dead Kennedys were pretty much the kind of people I hated in high school. They were the kind of people who used to kick my ass in high school for liking punk rock. And looking back on it, what was going on was that The Dead Kennedys had crossed that threshold where the people that were listening to them weren’t just punk rockers. The people that were listening to them also included just people that were made aware of this band. And let’s face it, a lot of people when they start listening to something, they don’t listen to it because they’ve never heard it before or because one of their friends tells them how good they are. A lot of times people listen to it because they hear, “They’re kind of big now.” In the case of the Dead Kennedys, they were a really good band so if some one started listening to them for that reason they were going to keep listening to them. But the fact of the matter was I was sitting there thinking about how many people at that show were idiots or jerks. But I got to pay with the Dead Kennedys. You can’t really complain about that.
What were some of your influences growing up?
Growing up, there was always music around the house because that’s just how my family always was. The first band that I got into where I was actually buying records was the Beatles. My dad actually gave me his copy of Sgt. Pepper and that was one of the ways I got into them. Then I started to listen to more different stuff and started listening to Led Zeppelin and whatever. Then I got into KISS. And the Beatles got me kind of into music, but when I got into KISS that made me want to play because it looked like fun and it looked like stuff I could learn to play. And then few years later punk rock hits and then you have the Sex Pistols and I listened to that and thought “Wait, this is really different. I could really play this. Hell, I could probably write this!” Then of course I started listening to the Ramones, the Clash, and all of that. But when shit started happening in town that was a game changer. That was when I couldn’t be passive about it anymore.
What year was that around?
Probably around late 1979, because that was around when the Bad Brains’ Pay to Cum single came out. I remember that I had been hearing about this band and how amazing they were and the shows they’d been playing in people’s basements had been legendary. So when I saw the single in a record store I had to buy it. You know that record is really good or really special if you can remember the first time you listened to it. There aren’t that many records like that for me so I can rattle them off. I remember the first time I heard Kiss Alive, I remember the first time I heard Never Mind the Bollocks, which I remember listening to three times in a row because it was just so different. But when that Bad Brains single hit, you’ve got “Pay to Cum” on one side, then you’ve got “Stay Close to Me” so I flipped that thing back and forth probably like 8 times in a row. Everything about it was different. And I couldn’t get over that they were local and within driving distance of me, they might be playing a show within driving distance and that they were blowing me away more than more of the other stuff that I had listened to up until now. And that lead to trying to search out more local shit and then the Teen Idols 45″ comes out and I’m just amazed that they were my age and doing this. So it dawned on me that there was something going on in town and I wanted to find out about it. And almost like clockwork, it came to my attention that there was a show at the Ontario Theatre. The bill was The Stranglers, the Bad Brains, and Black Market Baby and I had to go. I wanted to go see the Stranglers because I was kind of liking their record at the time, but the fact that the Bad Brains were playing I had to see that. I went with a friend of mine and the deal was my folks drove us there and his had to pick us up. We were like 15 and weren’t even old enough to drive. The Bad Brains went on and I’ll never forget it. The lights went down, the crowd starts screaming and going ape shit, and then H.R. gets up on the stage, raises his hands and yells out.
At that time, did you feel that you were a part of something big that you were catching at the ground level?
I didn’t necessarily think I was a part of something big, I did think I was witnessing something big. I was in the middle of something big happening, but that was almost the point of no return. I realized I can’t just watch, but I had to get involved. I couldn’t just be a spectator. I had to be involved in it.
Tell me about the back of your shirt. Was it you who time lined all of that stuff?
No, it was all of us. That was something I had been thinking of in the back of my mind. Andre our bass player sent and email to every one saying we should have a timeline on the back of out t-shirt. So it made me realize it wasn’t just me thinking of it. When we were together as an active band, a lot of folks thought because of the content of our music that we were going to be these serious, bummed out, morose guys and that’s not really our thing. At that point it sort of was drilled into us that we need to bring balance to the band in some regard.
Good for you. What’s one you regret with Marginal Man? What’s one thing you wish you did more or something you wish didn’t happen? Either personally or as a band.
That’s an interesting question. It’s interesting because no one ever asks that question. I think the one thing that I would’ve done is to get a greater handle on the business end of things surrounding the band. When I say that to some folks they kind of like, “What are you talking about man? This is punk rock.” And I try to explain to them that the moment that some one pays you money for something you’re doing, there’s a business aspect to it, because that means stuff is going on that involves you and you might get ripped off. So I do wish that I took it upon myself to be a bit more cognoscente and conscious of the business end of things.
Who was the business guy of the band?
We didn’t necessarily have a single person designated to handle the business end of things. The way we handled things was we booked with people we knew individually. So for the booking there was no single person, but there were also no single person for other things. For whatever reason, I ended up being the person that dealt with a lot of the mechanics around the deal for Double Image. When we did Identity, everything at Dischord was like a handshake, but Double Image was the first time we had to sign something. I had never signed a contract in my life so immediately I was saying we had to figure out what it all meant. My dad went to law school so he read through the thing for us and he said, “I don’t know entertainment law. I’m not going to pretend to do that.” But to this day he told me several things, which turned out to be very accurate about that contract. He said we were never going to make a dime off of that record and in order to make any money off of that record, we were going to have to sell a lot of records. He said the contract was very one sided and the label would never lose, because they didn’t have to pay us anything until they made back all of the costs that they put out to make this record for us. But he said there was something good there that if years down the line people decided they still liked our music, the rights to the record revert back to us in 5 years and we could do something ourselves. And that’s the reason why we were able to self-release Double Image on CD. That contract was a very traditionally one-sided recording contract. We ended up signing away a bunch of our publishing, we don’t own the sound recordings because they were designated as works made for hire, and a bunch of other stuff. As you can tell, I learned about the business end after the fact, as opposed to during the fact, which is one of the reasons I kind of wish I knew all of this back then.
I read a quote from somewhere that says, “Somewhat surprisingly for a band in a tightly knit D.C. punk community, the band left the home ground confines of Dischord for Enigma offshoot Gasatanka for the following year’s Double Image.” That sounds a bit bitter, is that how it’s supposed to be taken?
I think that’s off of allmusic.com. Whether or not it sounds bitter or not, I don’t know. I do know that we had the distinction, perhaps a dubious one, of being the first band on Dischord to put out a record on a label other than Dischord. Most people don’t know this but by the time our first record, Identity, came out we had already written two-thirds of the Double Image record. So when we went on the road to support Identity we were playing almost the entire Double Image record too. And the reason I’m saying that is because when we got back from tour, we realized we were almost done with another record and should try to start putting the wheels in motion to start getting another record ready by the next summer for tour. What happened was we approach Ian and Dischord and told them the game plan and we didn’t get a no, but we also didn’t get a yes. And a lot of that was due to Dischord’s situation at the time. The future of the label at that point was kind of uncertain. They were kind of strapped for money. So we decided to wait it out to see if they expressed interest later on or if their situation would change. As time went on, it became kind of clear to us that if we really wanted to put another record out and do it in a timely manner so those songs were still relevant we decided we needed to look for other options. As far as I can tell in my conversations with Ian and Jeff (Nelson), they never begrudged us on the Enigma/Gasatanka deal. However, one thing I’ve learned about life is that the people that are really the players are very rarely the people you have an issue with. It’s the people who are trying to impress the players who you tend to have an issue with. And where Ian and Jeff might have been cool with it, all these other folks who were trying to be cool with them (for whatever reason) weren’t okay with it and for whatever reason got it in their head that they might gain some stature by trying to drag us down.
At that time, did you guys get slack from fans?
We got some slack locally. I would occasionally say, Ian and Jeff are cool with this. At least to us they said that they understood. But we did have some friction from people who said we should never go to any other label. Honestly, in a perfect world, it would have been great if both the first two records had both been on Dischord. I would’ve been into that. But if you approach people and tell them you’ve almost got an entire record in the bag, you’ve just got back from tour, you’ll have material for another record ready in another month and should start talking about doing another disc and you don’t get a yes, what are you going to do? And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like they said no or that we sucked or whatever, it was more that they had some stuff that they had to figure out. If you don’t hear a no and you don’t hear a yes, then you have to start asking, “What do you do?” We never got any friction from Ian and Jeff, but some people did. I’ve got to be honest with you, all of those people, few as they were, were all in D.C. We never got any friction on that issue from people outside of D.C. To put it in perspective, you always want to be cognoscente about what people say about you, but at the same time you have to think about what’s going to be true to you. The reason I bring that up is because I remember when Identity came out. We got a bunch of hate mail from people calling us sell-outs. Do you know why they called us sell-outs? Here are some of the reasons they called us sell-outs on that record, one said “You guys sound like fucking Duran Duran. Fuck you!” That was one. I’ll never forget that one. Another letter said, “How dare you do this. You are obviously trying to play to the mainstream by doing this. Fuck you!” Do you know what “this” was, as far as, playing to the mainstream was? Having color on our cover. Having the temerity to put color on our cover. So after a while you’re sitting there saying, “Well I’m sorry I can’t make the guy, who wants me to just have black and white photos on our cover, happy, but I think the cover looks okay.” So there come a point where you wish you could make every one in the world happy or wonder if you’ll survive.
Tell me about your guys’ break up.
Basically, it’s kind of weird in the sense that I was one of the instigators in it. Weird because I was also one of the folks who helped form it and the name was my idea and stuff. But one time after practice, I just remember sort of saying I didn’t know how much fun it would be for me in the next few years. And as the discussion went on, other people stated chiming in and there was this sense and understanding that we kind of plateaued in a way. We came to the point where we kind of realized we could play the punk rock circuit for almost forever. We had no problem getting shows outside of D.C. Oddly enough, we did have a number of problems getting shows in D.C., but we never had any problems getting booked outside of D.C. So it wasn’t like we said, “We can’t get booked. Fuck it. People don’t want to hear us, let’s break up.” It wasn’t that at all. But there was this sense we could be doing this forever, but is that really what we wanted to do. Because there came this point where you start thinking to yourself that you don’t want to be that band where every one says, “They’re still together? When the hell are they going to hang it up?” You start thinking about that and you start realizing although you have to be true to what you believe in and what you want, you have to balance that with an understanding that when you’re in a band and people become a part of your audience and constituency, they become a part of a your extended band family. They not only come to your shows, but they’re telling people that you guys rock. And that’s how your audience grows. It doesn’t necessarily grow because some one saw this cool ad in a fanzine. People start listening to you because a friend of theirs tells them to check you out. When you think about it that way, you owe something to those people in the sense that every time some one says your band is happening, they’re putting themselves on the line for you. They’re risking the scorn and the belittlement of their friends and relatives by saying you’re good. So you owe it to them to be the band that they believe in and as a result you don’t want to be the band that people dread you still being together. In a sense that’s almost a betrayal of those people. We kind of realized we could either fade away or go out on a high note. So we decided to just have one more blow out show. There was like a two-year period where we could not get booked at the 9:30 club, the place we first played. For whatever reason the person that was booking the local bands just didn’t want to book us and had convinced the owner we weren’t worth booking. As fate would have it, at the point where we were deciding to do a farewell show, some one else had taken over that position. And she didn’t know anything about us really, which is kind of funny when you think about it. So we approached her and told her we were going to break up and wanted to do a last show at the 9:30 Club. In a nice sense of irony and completing the circle, that lady booking the shows called around and ended up telling the owner we could probably do pretty well if they booked us. So the owner told her to give us a weeknight and see what happens. She booked us and about two weeks before we got a phone call and was asked us if we would be interested in doing another set that night. And we asked them why and they told us that the tickets for the show were selling so fast they thought if we added another set, both shows would end up selling out. We agreed to it and we ended up doing two sets that night. So our first real show ever at the 9:30 Club was two sold out shows opening for Minor Threat and our farewell show was two sold out shows at the 9:30 Club with us headlining.
Did you make sure Shudder to Think played both sets too?
So you paid it forward.
Oh yes. Not to mention the fact that if we didn’t, their bass player, Stuart Hill, was one of my housemates and I wouldn’t have heard the end of it.
There was an added incentive in there.
Here’s the ironic epilogue. A year or so after that show happened, there was an opening at the 9:30 Club for the person who books the local bands and I applied for that job and ultimately got it. So for about two and a half years after that I was the booking manager at the 9:30 Club, booking the bands at my favorite club that I practically lived at as a young man.
What sparked this latest reunion show?
We had been getting a semi steady to steady stream of requests for us to do a reunion show. We’d been having that for a while ever since our last one in 1995. For whatever reason we had some complications and couldn’t all be in the same geographic space at the same time, and other times it just didn’t feel like the right show or it just didn’t feel right over all. I don’t know if Mike told you about this, but Government Issue did a reunion show last year I think and one of the bands that opened up for them was Set To Explode. And the singer, Dave Byrd, has always been into Marginal Man and wanted me and Mike Manos to join them on stage to fill in for a couple of Marginal Man songs. So I thought that sounded like fun and agreed to do it. We did that during G.I.’s set and almost immediately after we got off stage people were asking us if we were going to do a reunion and it really sort of got the talk going more where people were telling us we needed to do another reunion show. And Karl Hedgepath from Jinx Proof told us if we decided to do a reunion show he wanted to be a part of it and wanted to make it happen. At that point I didn’t really think much of it or give it too much thought until I got a call a week later from an agent I used to work with when I was booking the 9:30 Club. And he told me he heard about us doing this reunion thing with Mike and he asked me if the rest of the band still played and wanted to a do a mini tour. He also booked Scream so at one point, Scream was talking about us maybe doing a show with them in D.C. We actually got interested in that one but we couldn’t swing it logistically and we couldn’t be in D.C. at the same time. But it got the guys all talking to each other enough about doing it that we wondered why we weren’t doing it. And ironically Steve Polcari called or wrote me and asked if I had been thinking about doing a reunion show and I told him it was funny that he asked because that agent had been calling me about doing a mini tour or whatever. So I told Steve to call the other guys and see if they would be into it, while I tried to handle the business end of it to see if it was feasible. He talked to the guys and they were all interested and we couldn’t do the Scream show, but it got to the point where we decided to do a show on our own. So we went for it.
And it was well received?
Is anybody doing anything musically now?
Pete lives in Austin and he’s always been sort of steadily playing in bands over there. Me, I never really stopped playing. I played in bands for a while but just like local stuff with friends until about 2000 and I just realized I didn’t have enough time for it. I’m hardwire to get together, write a set, try to record, and then try to tour. And the thing is, I realized that I didn’t have time to tour.
What kind of music are you listening to nowadays?
Oh God, I listen to a little of every thing. But I’ve got to be honest with you, in the last few years I’ve really kind of gained a whole new appreciation for punk rock because it’s real. And the funny thing is is that the stuff that’s good, it was good when you were a kid for a certain reason, and it’s good as an adult for different reasons.
So you re-found all that old stuff or is there anybody new that you’re listening to?
I don’t know what’s really considered new or what not. Is Damnation new? Probably not to most people, but to me it was like a latter day sort of thing. I got turned onto them when they were still playing regularly and stuff. This is the one question I wasn’t expecting. I should’ve studied for this one. I’m going to go home and look at my iTunes library and go, “Godammit! I should’ve mentioned this band.” But I’m constantly listening to music. I’m always listening to stuff.