By Carl C. Sundberg
After nearly 25 years of thrashing clubs and stages across the globe, it's safe to say that Sick of It All's status as one of the founding fathers of the original New York hardcore punk scene will remain intact. Along with Madball, Agnostic Front, Biohazard and a handful of other New York-based bands, Sick of It All helped build a scene and a sound that has gone on to influence everyone from Hatebreed to Disturbed.
Founded in 1986 in Queens by brothers Lou and Pete Koller in their bedroom after seeing some shows at the legendary CBGBs in New York, Sick of It All was signed to Relativity records and released one of the most legendary hardcore punk albums to date - Blood, Sweat and No Tears - just two years after the band's first days.
From that point on, Sick of It All has managed to maintain a solid career, releasing a new album every 2 to 4 years, slowly building a cult following worldwide. On April 20th, 2010, Sick of It All will unleash their ninth album - Based on a True Story. Frontman and founder Lou Koller takes us inside this album, into his day-to-day world, through the early days of the band and what it was like to have David Draiman, frontman of Disturbed, tell him he's one of their biggest fans.
Q: Let’s start with the new album, Based on a True Story, what went into this album, I mean it was four years in the making.
A: Yeah, we didn’t plan to take that long, we just started touring after Death to Tyrants, did like a year or two years of touring, which is normal for us and then starting writing again. But when we hit the two year mark, we took some time off and all of a sudden we got all these offers for more tours, you know, like South America, back to Europe again, then the United States, all over the place, so we just kept going. [Laughs]
Q: As one of the founders of the New York hardcore scene, how do people in South America treat you guys?
A: It’s great, we’d go down there and they’d have books on the American scenes and they would divide it up into the Seattle scene, and the Chicago industrial scene, and they would include the New York hardcore scene, but you’d get fans who like all different types of aggressive music. They all come to the shows. I find that refreshing.
Q: Going back to the new album, what are some of the themes of Based on a True Story?
A: We didn’t have a concept or anything, but it turned out a lot of the songs were about stuff that happened to us growing up or things that affected us growing up. Like the lead track, Death or Jail, that’s about a lot of us growing up, and it was based around one of our friends, who was my best friend all through high school, that, even though we grew up and hung out with the same people and did the same things, he really got into being a drug dealer and a criminal and he ended up going to jail and he was supposed to be there for life. He got three heart attacks in jail, and he’s been in jail a good part of the last twenty years and when he got out he died three months later. We could just never understand, you know we all came from the same background, and why he chose that path, you know?
Q: Absolutely. So tell me then - I’m gonna guess that you’ve had some rough times in your life - what have you embraced, aside from music, to get you through it all?
A: You know, it might sound cheesy, but it’s been what our parents taught us when we were younger. You don’t want to admit that, especially when you’re younger, but it’s always there in the back of your head, you know? [Laughs]
Q: What’s a day in the life like for you?
A: Since I’d say, ’97, we didn’t have to have steady jobs, which was good because when you’re in a touring band you come home and then you gotta take some job in a mailroom or a temp job, so you work wherever you can. You know construction was a big one. Luckily up until this year, we’ve never had to have any jobs. Now, with the economy the way it is…I still don’t have a day job. Running the band is split between me and mostly our drummer, Armand [Majidi]; he took over the management side like ten years ago and he’s been running the band. I help him out, my brother - our other guitar player - [Pete Koller] helps him out too.
Q: Let’s go back to the original days. What got you into music, especially hardcore music?
A: Me and my brother Pete - who plays guitar - he’s my younger brother; we have two older brothers, a year or two older than us, and they would always bring home records, back then it was Deep Purple, Rainbow and Sabbath and we really got into that. But I was always into the more aggressive, more uptempo songs, and it just grew like that. We just started listening to more heavier stuff. Then one day, we went to high school, and that’s where we met Armand, our drummer, and he was into Motorhead. And to us, nobody in New York City was into Motorhead. We just hooked up like that and he introduced us to the New York hardcore scene.
Q: You guys played CBGBs early on. Tell me about the first time you played there.
A: The first time we were opening up for a bunch of bands, I think we were the second band on, and we had a couple of shows under our belts that we did on Long Island. You’re in such awe because there’s such a legend behind that club and it was just amazing. We just had a lot of fun. It was a year after that the we first headlined there and we were all piled in my friends car, stuffed with our equipment and the whole band and we’re driving to the city going, “God I hope people show up today.” And we pull up and there’s a line around the block. We were having a heart attack, and we were like, “Oh my God.”
Q: You just threw it down, huh?
A: Yeah that was the beauty, what sold me on the hardcore scene and music. I mean, we still love metal, like we’d go and see Ozzy at the [Madison Square] Garden with Joe Perry’s band opening up and the next weekend we’d be at CBGBs and I’m standing in the crowd and the guy next to me talking to me gets up on stage and it’s the guitar player of Agnostic Front. And I was like, “Holy crap I was just next to the guy who’s on stage,” and that kind of sold it for me. There’s not really a separation of megastar and you’re the audience. It’s just everybody having a good time.
Q: What do you think about the newer generation of hardcore bands?
A: I think it’s good. I love the mix. I mean, we came in when it was transitioning from punk into hardcore, where hardcore’s more…we want the angst and the energy of punk, but we don’t want the self-destructiveness, but we kept the values of where you shun the media, you didn’t want to be exploited. I think hardcore bands that came after us were smarter and learned you can work with the media and you don’t have to hate everybody. I think they’re smarter business-wise, which is good for them. It prolongs their careers.
Q: Has there been any younger bands that have come up to you and were like, ‘Man if it wasn’t for your band, I wouldn’t be in a band”?
A: The one that blew us away - we’ve had a couple - that guy from Dashboard Confessional [Chris Carabba], he came up to us. We played a festival together over in England and he said, “When I was from the age of 14 til 20, you guys kept me alive.” And that was great. But the one that really blew us away was last summer. We were playing a festival in Belgium and we’re headlining the second stage and we’re playing our set and our bass player walks over and says, “Hey, I think the singer of Disturbed is watching us.” And we were like, “Yeah right, he doesn’t like this kind of music.” We walk offstage and he comes walking up to us, the singer of Disturbed, and goes, “I used to go see you guys in Chicago for like years. You’re the reason I do music.” And we were just blown away that this guy in this huge band used to come see us in Chicago. It was very flattering.
Originally published on 101d.com
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