Here’s the second installment of our interview with Warzone / Gorilla Biscuits drummer, Luke Abbey. Like expected, Luke continues to deliver the goods, so dive on in. -Tim DCXX
What are your memories of starting to play with GB? Had you already become friends with those guys? What were those early practices like? What songs do you recall working out? What was the dynamic like in the band as far as personalities, friendships, etc?
I was excited because I knew when I joined Gorilla Biscuits that I’d be playing good shows and be involved with guys who were as into hardcore as I was. I hit it off with everybody in the band and their whole crew from Astoria and Jackson Heights where there was a tight knit scene. I spent a bunch of time out in Queens just goofing off, messing around at the pyramids, and I became friends with a lot of folks – especially Walter’s younger brother Dylan who was my age.
GB mostly practiced at either Giant Studios or Don Fury’s and there were almost always other people hanging out. Rehearsals back then were sort of open invitations – especially at Giant Studios where you could just kind of walk from room to room on any given night and see almost any New York band you can think of. There was so little pretension about playing music back then and I felt it was much more of a shared experience.
Walter was responsible for writing the music and lyrics for GB. Some elements of the tunes might have changed through the course of getting them together, but he always had a pretty solid conception of how it all should go beforehand. Initially I learned the songs on the demo, and I think “High Hopes” was probably the first new song I was a part of putting together. What blew me away most early on was how good a musician Arthur was. And it just seemed effortless – like he didn’t even notice he was playing. From those early days on, there’s always been a kind of ease and simplicity in terms of the development of GB, which I attribute it to both Wally’s approach and to the general chemistry between the guys in the band.
What are your memories from recording Warzone’s “Don’t Forget The Struggle…? (was that your first recording?)
No. I’d done recordings for the first Revelation NYHC compilation with GB and Warzone. Both of those were done at Don’s, which was where we practiced occasionally, so tracking there seemed like business as usual. “Don’t Forget the Struggle…” was recorded in a little studio somewhere in Jersey, and it was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done in terms of the process. I’m still amazed at how well it turned out considering how quickly it all went down.
Compared to GB, Warzone was a totally different animal. The line-up on that album took shape less than two months before we recorded. We were a 5-piece for the first two or three shows I played but then quickly lost Arthur. Soon afterwards, Wally quit to do Youth of Today – and continue GB obviously. We played one show in June of ’87 at the Ritz with DRI and The Exploited as a 4-piece with Brad on bass and Richie Birkenhead playing guitar, but a few days later Brad split and I’m pretty sure returned to Florida. That bummed me out tremendously – not just for the loss to the band but because he was so kind-hearted and had become pretty devastated by drugs at that point.
For a minute, Warzone was just Ray and myself and I thought that might be it, but a week later Ray said he’d gotten this dude John to play bass, and Jay and Paul from Altercation to play guitars. The very first time we got together to practice those guys already had it nailed. I remember Paul busting out these jaw-dropping leads right off the bat. The only drawback to getting Jay and Paul in the band was that Altercation pretty much folded as a result – and that band would’ve been unstoppable had they continued. And John Ullman was as cool as could be. He sounded like Darryl from the Bad Brains and added this really heavy element to the band with all his chord playing.
We began practicing twice a week minimum, and during those first months probably more. Whereas GB would rehearse sporadically and casually – usually before shows and when Wally had new tunes, Ray ran Warzone rehearsals like basic training. 20 song sets, at least 2 times through, plus going over upcoming plans and ideas. The band was like a machine and I absolutely loved it. It made me a much better drummer and boosted my confidence considerably.
The recording for “Don’t Forget the Struggle…” was worked into a little road trip book-ended by shows in August of 1987. We played Thursday night at a VFW in Albany with Uniform Choice, then drove to New Jersey afterwards to stay with this guy Fink who was responsible for putting out the album. We completed the tracking and mixing in two days, and almost all completely live. Ray sang in a little area just off from where the engineer worked while the rest of us played together in the live room. We wrote the skit that opens the record in the studio just before we began recording – with everybody coming up with their own versions. Jay and Paul each wrote the funniest, lewdest shit ever that could’ve been on a 2 Live Crew or Geto Boys record. I’m pretty sure I was responsible for toning it down some, but I wish I had the original versions of those things.
The following day we recorded back-up vocals, Paul did most of his leads, and then we mixed the entire record. Right after we finished up that night, Fink took a copy of the tape over to some college where he had a radio show. We sat in our rental van waiting and listening to the radio, and all of a sudden “Crazy, But Not Insane” came on and we all started freaking out. I used to listen to Pat Duncan’s show on WFMU all the time and record the broadcasts. That’s where I discovered the Cro-Mags actually. I still remember hearing the drum intro from the demo version of “Face the Facts” kick in and just thinking “who are these guys?’. My first band even wrote a song called “WFMU” and I would call in all the time to request it – but I never heard it played on the air. So hearing myself on the radio for the first time felt pretty special – and I think the whole band was equally excited. The next morning we headed back to the city and played a Sunday matinee at CB’s.
What about Warzone stories from the road? You guys played out a lot at that time. I’d imagine spending time in a van with Raybeez could be pretty wild.
We played a lot, but during the time I was in the band we never got too far from the city. The farthest we traveled was maybe Buffalo or down to D.C.. We played all over within that radius though but only a few trips that lasted more than a couple of nights. I vaguely recall having shows set up out to Chicago and back, but those never happened while I was in the band. Most of those trips weren’t so wild either – I’d say I experienced way crazier shit traveling with GB and that circle of bands. For the most part Warzone trips were pretty smooth. I can only remember breaking down once and we rarely got pulled over. And let’s just say it was usually pretty mellow inside the van for various reasons. Comparatively, when I went out with Youth of Today in the summer of ’88, it took us about a week to get down to Florida and we broke down in practically every state along the way.
What are some stand out memories of Raybeez you have?
Above all just how grateful I am for how he treated me. He had a lot of faith in me both as a person and musician, looked out for me when necessary, and I never felt that I had to fight to be heard within the context of the band – even though I was only 15 years old. He was good-natured about things, and even though he was serious about what he wanted to get accomplished, he had a real sense of humor about himself. Jay and I used to crack on him endlessly and he’d just laugh about it – and then shut us up by socking one of us. He had all these ideas for our shows that had nothing to do with hardcore – like getting an MC, dancing girls, and smoke machines – but they always turned out to be fun. I remember when I told him I was quitting the band; we were hanging out in the stairwell of Some Records, and he just laughed and basically just said I’d be missed but that he understood my decision. He was so cool about it that I almost changed my mind right there.
The last time I saw Ray might have been a month or two before he died. He came by Coney Island High to check out some band I was playing with in the upstairs bar. We hung afterwards and had a couple of pitchers with some of other folks – first time I ever had a beer with him. He seemed the same as always and was just having a good time. I don’t know if he knew what was going on with his health at that point, certainly didn’t say anything and I don’t recall him looking any worse. Then in September, I got a call from Jay telling me what’d happened and it really kind of floored me, even though I hadn’t been playing with Ray for almost ten years by that point. I went to his service up in Washington Heights a day or two later and it was heavy, but also heartening to see all other the people who’d gone up to pay their respects.
Was it stressful doing GB/Warzone at the same time as Warzone was established and GB was gaining momentum? What were the similarities and differences between playing in each?
For most of 1987, which was the only full year I was playing in both bands, almost everybody in GB also had other things going on. Walter was in Youth of Today and Arthur was playing with Token Entry – and possibly Underdog too at that point. For a while we had Eric Fink playing bass, but he also played in Side By Side. Basically Civ was the only person who didn’t have another band going on at the time, but even he was out on the road for a few months with YOT that summer.
In 1988 things did begin to pick up a bit with GB, and I was also drumming for Judge by then. Having three real bands going on at once in addition to high school did get tough, and as I was spending less time with the Warzone guys outside of shows and practice I just made the call I thought would work best for me. My last Warzone show was on February 28th at CB’s during a period when we were definitely one of the bigger bands in NY. I wish I’d continued playing with them long enough to record some of the songs that went on the next album that I had a hand in writing. I loved being a part of Warzone and have only good memories about those guys and the band.
What do you recall about recording the GB 7″? Were those songs pretty well rehearsed or were things being worked out in the studio? What was Fury like for a drummer?
I think we tracked it in just a couple of early evening weekday sessions. There were a few changes made right before recording, but nothing substantial. Walter rewrote the lyrics to “Hold Your Ground” right before we laid everything down – a great idea considering I wrote the original words and they were pretty ridiculous other than the title. I think he also came up with the abbreviated and manipulated version of “Slut” (GM2) while we were there. “Breaking Free” was the newest tune we recorded, and was originally intended for another group that was aborted after a single practice.
The back-up sessions for the 7” were hysterical – pretty much thanks to Raybies. Obviously his little bit before “Big Mouth” speaks for itself. Who knew twenty-five years later thousands of kids across the world would be shouting that in unison on cue? But what killed me the most was when we did the back-ups to “No Reason Why”, Ray would hold his note just a little longer than everybody else to try and screw us all up – and then proceed to laugh his ass off. He must’ve done it a dozen times until we finally just said fuck it and moved on. So if you listen closely to the second back-up vocal of the first chorus of that song, you can hear Ray’s voice stick out. Every time I hear it I can picture him doing it and it just cracks me up. But overall, I think we kind of just ripped through that recording. It might not be the tightest thing in the world but I think it’s somewhat unique both in spirit and sound. It’s humorous without being corny, Civ’s voice is priceless, and the songwriting is solid. It’s definitely an accurate representation of the band at the time.
I always enjoyed working with Don Fury. The sounds in his studio were great even before any kind of mixing. I have practice tapes from there which sound better than a lot of final recordings out of other studios. He got involved to some extent, but it never seemed overbearing and he was always into it. We were pretty comfortable there, and I think feeling at ease tended to translate into better performances and recordings. As a drummer, it was my favorite place to record – a lot of it due to the drum set Don had. It was painted with jail-stripes, had these black hydraulic heads, and has probably been used on more albums than any other kit in the history of hardcore. It was so incredibly reliable and there was never a question about whether or not it would sound good. I don’t think I ever actually tuned a single head. “Start Today” was the only music I’ve ever recorded at Don’s on anything but that kit. It was far and away the most dependable studio as far as getting a great hardcore sound.
How had the NYHC scene developed between 1986 and 1988? Did you feel like you were growing up with it?
I think it’s much easier to view it retrospectively and make judgments about what was going on then, but at the time I wasn’t aware of anything other than the day-to-day. There were plenty of people and bands I encountered when I first started going to shows that were still around between ’86 and ’88. I’m sure there were transitions in the scene that were more pronounced for others who’d been around longer than me though. Still, I think the sounds and attitudes of the original crop of New York bands, as well as the community-oriented aspects of the scene were still largely present.
Yet I’d also venture to say that the scene did lose more of its grit and underground character during that period. I suppose it was bound to happen; a subculture as powerful as hardcore was destined to grow eventually. There have always been people who’ve created new outlets of expression based on their personal inclinations regardless of what’s popular – and often in reaction to it. I was an angry, non-conformist kid and when I discovered the hardcore scene it just suited me perfectly. I heard something in the music that I connected with intuitively and once I began going to shows I also found how much fun, excitement, and friendship was there. I relished the fact that most people didn’t appreciate it. I remember guys in my neighborhood used to say to me, “Oh you’re into anarchy and all that ‘kill your mommy’ shit.” But instead of pissing me off it was more like an assurance that my little utopia was still safe from the mainstream.
I think that the scene survived as it did for several years was because of how insular it was. Nobody seemed to neither want nor expect any interest or attention from anybody other than the people who were going to shows. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact time frame or catalyst, I’d say that by ’88 the essential nature of the original scene was becoming eclipsed, and as a whole began to resemble a more traditional and cliquish culture. Even so, it was still a while longer before those transitions began to influence how interested I was in remaining active in scene.
Did you consciously identify yourself as part of the Youth Crew? Was that a bunch of silliness or something you guys actually took somewhat seriously on some level? Who was it and what did it mean?
I think primarily of Youth of Today and Crippled Youth as representing the Youth Crew, maybe along with some of the guys from the Providence and Albany scenes too. That wasn’t a group I hung out with when I suppose the name originated. Eventually I got to know and become friends with most of them through playing, touring, and just hanging out – but I never identified myself as a “member”. I’m not sure there was any definitive meaning to the “youth crew” beyond the values and ideas of the bands that comprised it. There has certainly been an image that has developed over time and become somewhat iconic – the hooded sweatshirts, football jerseys, and hi-tops – but that was just a style. I think it’s the power of the music and shows which propelled all that and made it larger than life. To the extent that I might be included in that scene, I’d say that hanging out in a group was simply fun as opposed to having some serious purpose, though I did consider the bands’ messages important.
When did SE come into play for you and what did that mean to you? Was there a real crew mentality at that time given the social circle, and had it already been a personal thing to you?
If it weren’t for how powerful I thought bands like Straight Ahead, Youth of Today, and Seven Seconds were I doubt I would have ever gravitated towards the straight edge scene. Straight Ahead especially blew me away. I saw a lot of their early shows, listened to their songs on the “End the Warzone” compilation religiously, and became increasingly drawn into their sentiments. Guys like Tommy Carroll and Cappo were so explosive on stage and what those bands were talking about seemed integral to their energy. I was only fourteen but I knew I had to be a part of what they were doing. I think it’s normal to want to prove something at that age but other than my devotion to hardcore as a whole I was still somewhat unfocused. I’d already been drinking and doing drugs for a few years and these bands exposed me to something I could relate to. It helped distillate my own energies into something clear and tangible – and ultimately positive.
Despite how important the straight edge scene became to me, I didn’t view it as distinct from the overall hardcore community. My connection to the scene as a whole remained paramount. Even while I was simultaneously playing in GB and Judge and wearing “x’s” on my hands, I still spent considerable time hanging out with people who were decidedly not straight edge. If there was any kind of crew mentality, I think it was based primarily on being friends and just being into similar ideas. But as time passed and the popularity of our circle of bands grew, I recognized that the notion of a “straight edge crew” had become increasingly two-dimensional, image-oriented, and somewhat arrogant. There were leagues of kids who only came out to support straight edge bands and though it obviously enhanced our shows, I felt it was contrary to the true nature of the hardcore scene.