What was it about what you were hearing coming from the Washington D.C. area at the time that attracted you?
We were blown away by what we were hearing about the DC scene. Here we were, young pups who didn’t party or want to be like all of our other younger friends who were getting wasted and doing stupid shit with absolutely zero purpose. Now, we had met kids across the country who felt similarly. It was terribly gratifying and regulatory at the time.
I know you’ve been asked this a million times, but just for good measure, how did the ‘black eyes’ thing come about?
I was fascinated by the idea of all these cities having punk rock scenes with their own flavor and identity and I wanted like hell for Reno to be represented so I came up with silly shit that I tried getting other kids in the city to pick up on. The black eyes thing was just my own naive way of communicating how I felt that society and the mainstream and authority figures were doing everything possible to keep people with a more rebellious spirit and attitude down. We might be getting pummeled and we might have bruises, scars and black eyes but inside, nothing was ever going to change us. If anything, we were becoming more anti-societal and rebellious. Eventually, other Reno kids adopted the black eyes look and it just went from there.
You did a fanzine titled ‘Skinhead’ back then. How many issues of the mag came out?
I think I did 3 issues. I was always changing things because I’d start on one thing, get bored with it or get super excited about something else, and then start something new up.
Since we’re kind of on that subject, what was your perception of what a skinhead was in 1981?
I had read about the traditional skinhead stuff going on in England and was fascinated by it. I related to it in many ways, especially the angry, bored, working class part of it. I also had a penpal in the UK who would write me these ten page letters describing what was going on over there at the time. Shit like rioting and football hooligans and the National Front. It was stuff that wasn’t going on where I lived but the anger and frustration parts still resonated with me greatly.
My problem was, at that time anyway, I hadn’t heard of any punk/hardcore-related anti-fascist bands claiming ‘skinhead’. I knew of the original skinhead scene’s love of soul and reggae but I was mostly hearing about the far right skins who aligned themselves with the NF and it bothered me. We decided that we would show the world that there were anti-racist skinheads coming out of Ronald Reagan’s then-America and that’s when we put out the ‘Skins, Brains & Guts’ 7 inch.
And since you mentioned the ‘Skins, Brains & Guts’ 7 inch, I just want to say how much I love the recording of that record, as well as the ‘Committed for Life’ ep and the demos. It’s so raw.
Thanks. We didn’t have a recording studio in Reno that we could afford in those days. Our first two cassette releases were recorded extremely minimally. The ‘Socially Fucked Up’ tape was recorded on a boombox with one mic set up directly in front of me. The band would play everything live and we’d just experiment with how close or far I was from the mic and whether there was distortion or not. I think we recorded the 3 Chord Politics on an old two track reel to reel machine.
The ‘Skins Brains & Guts’ and ‘Committed for Life’ records were recorded at Jon Bell house. He was the drummer of a local punk band, Belvue. He had a four-track studio setup and we recorded everything in one of his spare bedrooms, bouncing tracks and what-not.
Sometime after that you recorded a whole LP, ‘United We Stand’, but shelved it. What happened there?
Initially, Jello had offered to put out our album on Alternative Tentacles but I believe that they had lost their big distributor at the time and didn’t really have any money to help us record. We were poor as fuck and we only had access to Jon Bell’s four-tack studio. We went ahead and recorded something like twenty songs at Jon’s and were going to try and release the record ourselves which is right about the time Shawn Stern wrote us a letter saying that BYO Records wanted to release an album by us. They had the money, resources and distribution and because we were fans of Youth Brigade and had similar political and social views on things, it made the most sense and we went for it and put out ‘The Crew’ with them.
(Editor’s note: The ‘United We Stand’ sessions were later released in 1991 as the ‘Old School’ CD on Headhunter Records
‘The Crew’ came out in 1984 and soon after that, you did your first US tour. What are your memories of that?
Looking back, it’s shocking how dangerous and stupid going out in a van and touring the entire country for two months straight in 1984 really was. We had no money, no car insurance, nothing to fall back on. Bands rarely got gig guarantees back then so you never really knew what you were walking into and who was trustworthy or not. Cops hated you. Rednecks hated you. Kids in the ghetto neighborhoods you were playing in hated you. Even fellow punk rockers hated you. To make things even more ridiculous, we traveled the country in a friend’s 1958 VW bus with just about the shittiest gear imaginable. We were hungry every day. Lucky if we got showers. Every gig was different. We broke down several times.
But I’ll tell you this. It was one of the most incredible and thrilling times of my life. We met some of the greatest people on the planet, saw the best bands, stayed at the coolest houses and even managed to get laid every once in a while. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.