We spent 1984 skating every ramp we could and going to every show we could. These two interests (hardcore/skating) were completely intertwined; a mishmash of Government Issue, bus transfers, Marginal Man, stinky pads, snickers, ditches, stealing wood, Annandale, cassette tapes, super big gulps, and/or Void at the Wilson Center. At the shows we started to recognize familiar faces from ramps, school and the neighborhood, and made new friends from all over the DC area. I feel like being skaters gave us a bit of a late pass, like “oh, how cute! here come those skaters again” as we’d stage dive in train fashion. Our high school had a healthy goofy punk scene (Colin and Roger from BMO and later Dag Nasty, Mike Fellows from GI and Rites of Spring, Natalie and Kate who would go on to form Fire Party, Joel Gwadz, Rob Hardesty, Maureen Gorman, Jen Mercurio, Katey Chase). Many of these older punks took a big-brother/sister interest and helped refine our musical tastes.
The girls were especially good scene ambassadors; I can’t stress this enough… they were very enthusiastic in our musical indoctrination. Hardcore tends to drown out interest in any other sound, but they tried to instill in us an appreciation for other/older bands (Joy Division, Birthday Party, Generation X) that inspired the newer bands we liked… and they were sweet to boot. A very friendly, positive experience overall. Our local skate shop (Bethesda Surf Shop / Sunshine House) was incredibly supportive as well, and adopted us as their team like they did Ian and Henry years before.
Ramps were rare, so word of ours spread quickly, pulling local skaters out of the woodwork. Some we recognized from the records we were listening to: Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat), Tom Clinton (Youth Brigade, Double O), Eric Lagdameo (Red C, Double O). Brian Baker showed up one day with OP Moore from Negative Approach. That was pretty mind blowing for us, even more so when OP did a miller flip on our shitty little ramp. Crossing paths with these people (in and out of shows) further wore down the star effect, and made the prospect of playing music seem more possible, logical, obvious.
One day Tom Clinton brought a kid named Lawrence McDonald and his little brother Mark to our ramp. They soon became a daily fixture and very much a part of our tight-knit group. Lawrence had played in a band years before (Capitol Punishment with Colin Sears and Mike Fellows), and was starting a new band called Bells Of with himself on guitar, Alec MacKaye (Faith) on vox, Bleu Kopperl on bass, and Peter Wilborne (the 400) on drums. Having started in summer DC 1985 they were heavily inspired and influenced by Rites of Spring. Their first show was ok, in hindsight maybe Alec wasn’t 100% sure of his involvement in the band. At the end of the summer they jumped into Inner Ear and recorded rough tracks for 7 songs before Pete left for college. With their 2nd show approaching and no drummer to practice with, Lawrence asked me (a nubile guitarist with marginal ability) to get my friend Tom Doerr to fill in on drums so the band could stay tight. In exchange, I could attend their practices and maybe get better at guitar.
That first practice was a trainwreck, with Tom and I goofing around like the 15 year old kids that we were. At one point Alec had to whistle like you would at a bad dog just to shut us up. Having come from the Faith, Bells Of probably seemed pretty juvenile… Alec quit a week or so later. Rather than cancel the second show and scrap the recording, Lawrence took over vox and asked me to join as second guitar. The first show I ever played was October 25 1985, opening for Embrace and Rites of Spring. I’m told this show went much worse than their first. I wouldn’t contest that.
We got our show legs under us eventually. Lawrence finished the 7 song tape, but was already moving beyond its relatively simple approach. He just put it down and never did anything with it… I never really understood why; the songs were great, and in hindsight it is a pretty amazing collection of lost songs from Revolution Summer…very much of the era but still very unique. I love that tape. A few of the songs found their way onto cassettes that have been floating around for years, passed between a small group of admirers. One of those admirers, Artist Rich Jacobs, is now making the entire session available as a 12″ on his label The Move Sounds.
Bleu quit Bells Of so I moved over to bass while Lawrence’s little brother Mark took over on drums. I learned all that I could about songwriting from Lawrence, but eventually faded on the project, quitting in 1986. Though you wouldn’t guess it from the sound, Bells Of was a skate band through and through, with many of its future members swapping in from our original tight core of skaters. Bells Of continues to this day, still centered around Lawrence and a rotating cast of players.
Around that time we were skating regularly at a huge new metal vert ramp called Cedar Crest. I picked up a sponsorship from Powell Peralta in 1987 or so… It was just the B-team (or “flow” team), meaning most of what I got was seconds and/or boneite, but fuck I couldn’t believe it. When all you had to do was pick up the phone and call some dude in Santa Barbara to have a box of decks/wheels/jackets delivered to my door, you didn’t notice the little number “2” branded in everything.
As much as I loved skating, I still wanted to play guitar in a band—something that bridged my twin loves of Metallica and the Faith. In early 1987, Shawn Brown and a guy I vaguely knew (Ramsey Metcalf; a Mod who had recently transferred into my school) walked into my job at the photomat. I had already known Shawn for a couple years; we had skated together a few times and went to all the same shows. I had watched him sing in Dag Nasty (and later watched him stand front-and-center, dead-still, enraged as Dave Smalley sang his words). They were there to ask me to join their new band; something Bad Brains-esque. Sounded perfect to me, so fuck yes. Days later I dragged a borrowed amp into Ramesy’s living room where the rest of the band was setting up for the first time: Nathan Larson (NFC) on bass and Alex Daniels (Carpe Diem) on drums. We kinda knew each other from shows our previous bands played together, but within minutes of playing, we quickly recognized that this new band was something we definitely wanted to pursue. A few weeks later we called it Swiz.
Though my interest in skating didn’t die that day (I still skate), it did get pushed over to shotgun status.