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INTERVIEW: Lyle Hysen
This interview with Lyle Hysen was conducted in the Spring of 2013 for my second book, NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980 - 1990. Lyle played drums in the Misguided and Das Damen and edited Damaged Goods fanzine.
Tony Rettman: How did you find out about this new thing happening downtown?
Lyle Hysen: I was putting out my fanzine Damaged Goods and met Jesse Malin and we began playing music together. There was no one before Malin; he was there. I was pretty much an anglophile-type kid. I was more Trouser Press than New York Rocker if you know what I mean. But it was Jesse who told me I should write more about New York bands. I think he was the first one who took me to see The Stimulators, The Bad Brains, and The False Prophets. It wasn’t like I made some major conscious decision to be ‘that guy’ because ‘that guy’ didn’t exist! I wrote about the Dead Kennedys and Stiff Little Fingers because it’s all good music to me.
I met the Stimulators and I was so young and they were so nice. I remember Nick Marden was such a nice guy inviting me over to his house to staple my fanzine. Now, was everyone being nice to me because I was the fanzine guy, or were they being nice because they’re actually nice? It was Denise (Mercedes, Stimulators guitarist) who showed me how to do halftones for my fanzines so they wouldn’t come out too dark.
Did Heart Attack ever play out with you as a member?
We played a CB’s audition with me on keyboards.
Was there an inspiration to start Damaged Goods?
There was a fanzine called Short News done by Nancy Breslow. I got that and thought ‘I can do this! This is great!’ The look and aesthetic of the fanzine were very influential. To me, the whole Hardcore thing was about ‘Why Not?’ and I really embraced the ‘Why Not?’ aspect Of course I’ll do a fanzine! I liked these bands and I’m excited, so why not?
Eventually, you were in The Misguided.
Yes, I was in The Misguided. We weren’t very good. We tried harder; I think that’s a motto we can still live by.
Who was the band that kicked off New York Hardcore?
The Stimulators were definitely the drivers. They don’t get the credit I think they deserve.
What did you think of the New York Thrash compilation?
Some of those bands on the ROIR cassette weren't really a part of what was going on. It was very disconcerting when that came out because I was right in the middle of that. The Fiends? Why?
How did you come to put out the first Heart Attack single?
I guess the big thing was that I put out the Heart Attack single. I guess that inspired some people to say ‘Why not put out a single?’ It wasn’t a very fun experience. They recorded with my neighbor because he was the only guy we knew who knew anything about recording. The record didn’t sound as great as the band actually sounded. It took months for it to come out. I had no idea what to do. It took six months. By the time it came out, Malin and everybody in the band hated it. That was it. They didn’t want to repress it. 300 of them were gone. It’s a three-song single. So it’s obviously fashioned on more of a British punk thing than an eight-song ep on Dischord.
How did Tim Sommer get involved in the early scene?
Timmy Sommer worked at a record store in Little Neck called Scrooge. He was writing for Sounds and wanted to know more about the bands I was covering in Damaged Goods. I introduced him to all the bands and Jack Rabid. Then those two became besties and did the Noise The Show radio show and Tim wrote an article about New York Hardcore for Sounds and then he signed Hootie and the Blowfish. I still don’t get that lineage.
Did you listen to Noise The Show?
Since I knew what led up to it coming to be, I was skeptical. I was happy it was happening. It was great exposure and a lot of people listened and tapes were made and traded and it definitely had an impact. But by ’82, I was like ‘Enough of this. You can’t watch the bands because all these cement heads were getting violent and it wasn’t any fun. All of a sudden, it was not about the band. It was about them and that became very disappointing to me. How did this happen? How did that happen? Why did that happen? Why is Kraut a big band?
Who would you say was the best out of that first string of NYHC bands?
The best band was Reagan Youth. They were the band to beat but they ended up beating themselves. They were the best band with the best songs. They were going to be the NYHC band. It’s a heartbreaking story.
When talking about the early NYHC scene, the one thing people point out is there was no Dischord or SST to release records by these bands. It’s all these self-released, one-off singles scattered around the place.
Rick Rubin had a band called The Pricks. He called me in the beginning and sent me a demo. I think if he didn’t go in the other direction of Hip Hop, he might have been that guy that put out 10 great NYHC singles in a row.
From what I remember, you were writing scene reports for Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll for quite a while.
Maximum Rock N Roll had me write scene reports when I was already pretty much out of Hardcore. I was writing about Sonic Youth and Rat At Rat R. When I first saw Sonic Youth, it was the same thing as seeing the D.C. bands. I felt they had a lot of energy and they’re doing something different and exciting. It got to a point where Tim Yohannan was like ‘We’re bringing in someone else to do the scene reports’. And I was like ‘I don’t understand, I’m covering all independent bands’. That’s when I began a shift into the SST records scene.
What made you want to check out more bands like Sonic Youth or Swans?
The scene got really crummy. People would be jerky and say ‘Oh, you’re from Great Neck!’ and I would reply ‘Yes, but everyone I hang out with is from Queens and I’m doing a lot to support this music’. I put the Great Neck address on all the records and the ‘zine because that’s where I lived. I never thought I should put Rizzo’s address. Should I have done that to get cred? The ‘zine was only fifty cents and I had people giving me guff about it not being free. It was a lot of work!
I did a benefit for Damaged Goods at 171A once and afterward, everyone said ‘Thank you for putting out a fanzine”. I did a second one with Reagan Youth, Kraut, and a few others at Max’s. By then, things started to feel different. Everyone was like, “We want to get paid!” It was a benefit! I started to question why I was doing it and I was confused if these people were my actual friends or just using me; for what I have no idea.
I remember when people were like ‘Boston’s coming and they’re going to mosh all over you!’ and I was like ‘Boston? Really? Have you ever heard the Dogmatics?’ That stuff cracked me up with the whole ‘hard’ thing.
What was The Misguided’s reaction to where the NYHC scene was headed?
We were like ‘OK, well we’re going to grow our hair and we love 60’s garage, and if you think we’re bad at playing Hardcore, just wait until you hear us play some 60’s garage!” We played a CBGB’s matinee where we covered ‘1-2-5’ by The Haunted and Rizzo (Misguided vocalist) wore a tuxedo. My boy is upfront in a tuxedo and I’m wearing a paisley shirt. What is more ‘fuck off’ than coming out dressed up like Brian Ferry from Roxy Music and opening up with a Haunted cover? But that was the show where Hilly saw us and said ‘You should be playing night shows’. That leads to seeing Sonic Youth and saying ‘Holy shit!’ I took Thurston to some of the Hardcore gigs and he was really into it. It made him aware of the energy and enthusiasm and he brought that to Sonic Youth.
What about some of the other earlier bands like Heart Attack? Where were they in this same period?
Malin and that band got very political and I had no patience for that. There was all this writing with their record but where were the tunes? Are there any songs as good as ‘Shotgun’? It was like they had to tell the same one-hundred people about how bad everything is.
Do you think it was inspired by Maximum Rock N Roll?
Tim Yohannan was a great guy. I still have an MC5 single he gave me. But driving this political point home over and over again just got to be too much for me. I really didn’t think it was going to do anything.
Did you pay attention to where NYHC went in the latter part of the 80s?
I remember seeing Anthrax on MTV and they used the word ‘mosh’. It totally broke my brain. How did that happen?