This interview with Adam Nathanson (Life’s Blood, Born Against, Young Pioneers) was conducted in September of 2013 for my second book, NYHC – New York Hardcore 1980 – 1990
So, I’ll guess we’ll start with why did you start coming from New Jersey into New York for shows?
Punk for me was an escape from New Jersey. New York was just way more exciting. It was a real city and I had enough of New Jersey as a state.
I don’t know if you’d feel comfortable saying Life’s Blood had a motto, but something the band put on their seven-inch and flyers was: “Hardcore – Love It Or Leave It”. What was behind a sentiment like that?
I had this crazy Stalinist type of view that you were either with us or against us when it came to the scene. If I didn’t see you at Some Records or at Sunday matinees at CBGB’s every week, then you clearly weren’t dedicated to Hardcore. That was my teenage interruption. So if there were people in my high school who maybe liked that kind of music, but I didn’t come down to the Bowery every Sunday, then I wanted nothing to do with them. I just felt like I had no time for these people. I had an extreme view and most people from New Jersey didn’t fit into it, so the people I picked and chose to be around other people from New Jersey or the Bronx or Long Island or Queens who knew the only place to be on a Sunday afternoon is on the Bowery or walking around the village. I think a whole lot of other people had the same mindset at the same time to converge on this place.
What are your memories of Some Records?
When Duane set up the store, I went in there and bought the Youth of Today Can’t Close My Eyes 7”, some fanzines and maybe a Sheer Terror demo tape. He was so friendly. We were always going into the city to practice with whatever band we had at the time and Duane would always let you leave your guitar, backpack and all that stuff at the store while you went to the show or got pizza. I thought it was a big deal when he would say ‘Adam, I’m going to take a break. Can you sit behind the counter for a while?’ I thought I was the king of the world because I was sitting behind the counter at Some Records. When I’d get home, I would tell my mom that I was in charge of this store in Manhattan for thirty minutes. I don’t have any stories about beat downs or anything, but I have that.
What are your memories of the formation of Life’s Blood?
For a while, I had a few bands that would coalesce at Giant Studios on 14th Street and after a couple of weekends, they would usually die. With Life’s Blood, I can’t say there was some special moment where we glanced into each other’s eyes and became transfixed. All a group is getting people to show up at the same place at the same time and that’s all a band like Life’s Blood was.
Didn’t you have other bands before Life’s Blood?
I did have a band briefly with Anthony Communale from Raw Deal and John Wrecking Machine. But right around that time, Anthony stared Raw Deal, Wrecking Machine started Burden of Proof and I started Life’s Blood.
Was that band Mister Softee?
Yeah. Wrecking Machine’s idea was people would come to a show, see the name Mister Softee and think the band would be wimps that sound like The Cure, but then we’d shocked them by being the hardest band in New York.
It seemed right off the bat, Life’s Blood made a conscious effort to run against what people perceived to be the standards of what NYHC was at the time.
We wanted to be a part of what was happening at the time, but we were anachronistic to the anachronism of the time. We were one step removed from what was relevant. We wanted to present something that would come off like the Cause For Alarm 7”. But some of the craziness my next band Born Against would be known for starting in Life’s Blood. There was some vandalism of Venus Records related to them selling collectible punk records for a lot of money.
I remember hearing about Jason O’Toole (vocalist for Life’s Blood) calling out Youth of Today for making the music video for the song “No More” and Ray Cappo having issues with that.
I guess he was asking around about us the weekend after that happened. Do you know what he said? He said, ‘What’s up with this band Wolf’s Blood?’ Again, some of the stuff we would get known for in Born Against was already starting to bubble. We started to make ourselves stand out on purpose based on nothing that had to do with our music.
Nonetheless, were you a fan of Youth Of Today?
I was interested in Youth of Today because they were in Violent Children and I thought they were really good. I was always really into being Straight Edge, but I just didn’t like the Youth Crew aesthetic. The whole jock look didn’t flow with me. But Youth of Today was a really good band and when they put out We’re Not In This Alone, I thought it was cool they had a song about vegetarianism on there with ‘No More’ but the song I especially liked on that album was ‘Live Free’. That song was a watershed moment in the scene to me because it opened the floodgates for people to finally feel comfortable in saying, ‘We don’t want any more of this right-wing bullshit in our scene’. They were a band that was really looked up, so they really stuck their neck out doing that song. So, I give them a lot of credit for that.
Why did Life’s Blood break-up?
We would have gone farther, but the singer didn’t really stick with it and we never recovered. There was a time when I thought it was going to work out right around the end of ’88 when Jason from Krakdown said he’d give it a shot to be our singer, but that didn’t materialize.
After Life’s Blood, you formed Born Against. You already hinted at how that band got known for stirring things up in regards to your opposition to larger independent labels getting involved in punk, how do you feel about all that stuff in the present day?
Well, we never had a plan to be as crazy as we were in our behavior. It just seemed at some point, the concept of observing typical social relations ended for us. We might have developed big platforms to justify the things we ranted and raved about, but there we had no impulse control or filter.
When we started Born Against, Sam was doing a lot of work for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador and Nicaragua and Guatemala. They had an office at the War Resisters League on Lafayette Street. The very first song Born Against put on a record was called ‘The Good Father’ and it was about the war in Central America. I had always been concerned about that going back to the time sending away for information from the addresses on the back of MDC records. So, I don’t know why we tried to do all of these fratricidal weird scene politics type stuff when we should have been concentrating on issues like that. What I’m trying to say is I don’t know why we thought the main thing we needed to address was records labels coming into the punk scene. There was stuff that was right up in our faces like the poor and homeless people getting kicked out of Manhattan or tax dollars going to the war in El Salvador. In the present day, I don’t know what was up with us wanting to scrutinize other bands. I just thought everybody else through telepathy was going to come with us in that pursuit. I guess I fancied punk to be some monk-like experience or something.
Were there any bands in New York during that period that inspired you to be as abrasive as you and the band were in stating their opinions?
I always admired the confrontational assault of Missing Foundation and the stance they took against gentrification. I liked the theatre of it all and the concrete actions they were taking. It was so hostile and mysterious.
For someone inspired by bands like MDC, did you feel there was a more right-wing element to the NYHC scene?
One time in ’86, I was at a CBGB’s matinee and the singer for one of the bands playing said ‘Yo, I was Washington Square Park the other day and this guy was saying all this stuff about how America is fucked up with a hammer and sickle button on his jacket. I’m not telling you what to do, but his name is Stefen and he’s the singer from the False Prophets. If you see him, you know what to do!’ And everyone in the audience was like ‘Kill him! Kill him!’ It was like a scene from Frankenstein or something.
I hate to keep sticking to this theme, but is there a main regret you have with Born Against?
I really liked doing Born Against for the simple reason the songs we were coming up with were good. I just wish we could have been known more like a really good band, but I guess we sabotage ourselves on that one.
One thing you got known for were the flyers you would make with the title War Prayer that railed against your issues in the Hardcore scene. Where did the inspiration for those flyers come from?
Abraham Rodriguez from the band Urgent Fury had this fanzine called State of Fury in the mid-’80s that was a one-sheet filled with his rants about the scene and politics.
In the end, would you say the all-or-none attitude of Born Against bit the band in the ass?
I would say by late ’91, there was a realization things were going whacky and by ’92 a lot of people from our scene at ABC No Rio took their cue and turned on Born Against. We were a bunch of little monsters who created a bunch of other little monsters that ended up rejecting us. By 1992, I was totally over with that stuff and just wanted to be in a band. In a way, they were biting the hand that feeds because we were one of the last bands that did anything in that scene worth listening to. Honestly, who goes around listening to those bands who played ABC No Rio matinees? No one is putting Animal Crackers songs on mix CDs to impress people.
I think the funny thing about ABC No Rio was the misconception the place was some politically correct gulag. You’d travel around the country and meet people who thought they were adopting some rule book for the place that was totally out of whack.
Yeah, that’s right. I always found it entertaining when you’d go somewhere like Santa Barbara to play and someone would bump into somebody and all of a sudden the music would stop with someone getting on the mic saying something like, ‘Stop the show! There’s oppression going on in the audience!’ It was like they wanted everybody to sit cross-legged and hold hands. I’m not a big proponent of violence, but I just found that whole thing really weird.