I was super thrilled when I got the possibility to do an interview with Ken Olden. I'm sure you all know who Ken is and in which legendary bands he played in, so I don't want to bore with any stupid introduction. All I want to say is that I was listening to Battery all the time the weeks before I even knew that I could do an interview with him, so that brought back lots of memories. Now Ken is playing in Face the Enemy together with former members of Mouthpiece, Hands Tied, Battery, Better than a Thousand etc. What can you expect from such a killer line up? Right, nothing but pure fuckin' old school! Now go on to the interview and remember: Straight Edge will never die!!!
Hey Ken, how are you doing? It's a real pleasure for me doing an interview with you, one of the most prominent and well known people in today's hardcore scene. It's quite cool sending you some questions, because for the last three weeks I was almost constantly listening to Battery's "Whatever it takes" and "Until the end", and these songs still mean so much to me. Hey. I'm just honest. But let's go to the interview now...
Thanks, I really appreciate your words, we worked hard on those albums and they will always be classics to us. It's cool to know that people are still enjoying those albums (Definitely! I mean these songs really can help building me up again when I'm feeling down - Stefan).
Apart from Battery I was listening to Face the Enemy a lot, and I like your split with Never Surrender a lot. How did you guys come together as a band? I mean you and Graham played together in Battery as well as in Better than a 1000 and so did Alex, and Tim and Ed were together in Hands Tied, but who came up with the idea of starting a band together in the first place?
Well, basically, Graham and I had written a bunch of songs and wanted to find a singer who we felt could do them justice. We never looked for a singer though, because my first thought was to call Tim, from Mouthpiece. I had known him since 1989, when me and my friends would drive up to New Jersey to see whatever hardcore shows were going on. I had always known Tim over the years, and we supported each other's bands. At one point I even filled in on guitar for some Mouthpiece shows. I called him, then I sent him the instrumental versions, and about a week later he had lyrics to all the songs. Ed I had met a long time ago also, and I always had a lot of respect for him as a contributor to the scene and also as a musician, so it was cool when Tim suggested Ed play bass.
Considering the line up of FTE one can truly say that you are a super group. Would you say that this is rather positive because many people know your names and might check out FTE because of that or is it rather a burden because people's expectations are so high?
Actually we never thought of it like that. We just wanted to be in a band with guys we had a lot in common with. We're all straightedge still, even after all these years, and we wanted to play with guys who had the same amount of experience at their given talents. I think people should expect a lot from us, because together we have played on some good hardcore records, but we don't try to do something that isn't natural for us. We have been fans of, and played hardcore music for so long. Writing and recording good hardcore songs is in our blood. I'll always be able to do this I hope, there's no other form of music more fun for me to play. Hopefully people who know our best bands will like this one also; I think it's not so far away from any of them. I think the quality of the performance, sounds and production is better then most of our past recordings, we'll let the kids be the final judges, hopefully they like what they hear.
Is the split with N.S. the first release by FTE or did you put out another release before?
This is our very first release, and we already have the album finished, that should be out before summer. I like the EP, but I really love the album! I can't wait until they're both out.
When did the recordings of the full length take place and what will be its title? Will any songs from the split make it on the full length or will you record all new songs for the album? Any (working) title for the album?
The name of the full length is 'THESE TWO WORDS.' We actually recorded the full length before the EP, which is a bit unusual, but that's how we did it. One song from the split is on the album also, plus 11 more new songs.
Who will produce the album? Will that again be you like on the split?
Yes, I produced the album at my studio in Washington D.C. It was cool be able to take all the time we wanted to do the album right. It's actually the first time in all my recording history I was able to do that. Normally we would have a small budget, like most hardcore bands, and have to bang out an album in a day or two. Some of those Battery albums were recorded in one day. In fact, "Only the Diehard Remain" was recorded and mixed in about 7 hours.
What do you generally think about producing the bands you're in on your own? I mean it can be a good thing because you know exactly how the sound should be like, but do you also think that a producer who's outside of the band can be a good thing, too?
Well, I suppose either can be a good choice, depending on the band's needs. For me, with the exception of Better Than A Thousand, I was writing 100% of all of my former band's music, sometimes lyrics also. I had a really clear picture of what the songs should sound like in the end. The other issue gets back to the budget. You see, when I am able to produce the album, that means we didn't have to pay an outside producer, which meant we got more time in the studio. Normally time in the studio is the biggest factor. I can only speak from my perspective, but in FTE, and my former bands, it seemed to be a positive factor to have a member of the band recording and producing the CD. Everybody felt very comfortable, and there was zero pressure, which is the best atmosphere in the studio. It would be fun to work with another producer; it would be a lot less work for me, and a new experience. Brian from Battery and I produced the Battery CDs together, that's was cool also. But the strange thing is that there are only a few hardcore producers anyway.
Is FTE a real band or more a project? I am asking because I could imagine you are all pretty busy, especially you being a producer.
That's a good question. It's true, all the members have totally busy schedules. The one thing I can tell you, is that when you really want to do something, you will always somehow find the time for it. I would say this situation is very similar to Better Than A Thousand, in that, there's a bunch of guys with very busy lives, and who may live quite a distance from each other. We are a band, we have played a lot of weekends and a short tour here in the USA so far, and as our CDs are out we look forward to playing a lot more, in the US and the rest of the world.
When I saw Shelter a few years back while Graham was still playing with them he told me that there were some songs written for a third Better than a 1000 record, but that album never came out, so will some of these songs appear on the FTE album?
Yes, that's exactly right. Graham and I had written a bunch of songs for a 3rd BT1K CD, but the band ended before we recorded it. That was the original idea, to do a new band with the songs we wanted to record. The songs on the EP are not the songs that would have been on a 3rd BT1K CD, but some of the songs on the full length were.
Who came up with the idea of doing a split with N.S.? Is the split also out in the US or only in Europe?
Well we were working closely with Porcell on his project and finished the two EPs at the same time. We contacted Defiance, and they were into it. It was their idea to put them out as a split, and we thought it was a good one. The fans get more songs also on the CD, which is very cool, and we were playing a lot of shows with Never Surrender in the USA anyway. We even thought of doing a tour together when the bands come to Europe for the first time, maybe that can still happen; we'll wait and see.
Defiance Records is releasing the split in Europe, and does Livewire take care of it in the States? How about future releases, will these labels take care of them as well?
Yes, that's right. Also we do a new label called INFERNO, and INFERNO does the CDs of our recordings, Live Wire, Ed's label, does the vinyl. Defiance does our records in Europe. We've known the guys at Defiance for years, in fact, Hoffi was one of the first hardcore guys I met in Europe on Battery's first tour which was primarily a squat tour. We played some shows where it was just Hoffi and a couple of his friends as the entire crowd, which was so great for us, since they really helped us so many times over the years. We're happy to work with old friends years later.
How did you get this European deal with Defiance?
Well, I actually visited Germany over the summer and met these guys. At the time we didn't know who would do the releases in Europe, but I had some promo copies of the CDs with me, and gave them to Defiance. A month or two later we contacted them, and asked if they would be into releasing these EPs, and then the full length. They heard the records, and then the full length and were into it. And they worked very fast, in fact, the CDs would have come out even sooner if I was faster! But they have done a great job.
Who's the drummer in FTE, Alex or Andrew? Why are there two different ones on your songs of the split?
Well, Alex is the drummer, but when we wanted to do the split, Alex had been hired by the band Saves the Day, who was on tour with Green Day and Blink 182 in the States. It actually looked like he might join Saves the Dave in the end, so we asked our friend Andrew Black who has played in The Explosion, Good Clean Fun, and a few other bands, if he was into it. He lives in D.C. also, so it was very easy to practice the songs with him. He also played our first shows last summer with us. We're lucky to have been able to work with the best 2 hardcore drummers out there, in my opinion. Hopefully we'll continue to be so fortunate.
Would you consider FTE as a sXe band? I mean I saw some pics of a FTE show where Tim had Xs on his hands and the lyrics for "Substitute" are also pretty much sXe. What's your opinion about sXe today?
I'd say we are a sXe band. Everybody is sXe still, like I was saying before. Wait till you get the CD - 'THESE TWO WORDS!' My impression of sXe in 2003 is the same as I felt a decade ago, I think it's a positive way to live, but it's not for everybody. People have to do what's right for themselves, and not try to be something or somebody they are not. I think its good for young people to know that there are many lifestyles to embrace, not just the typical 'drinking/drug' lifestyle. I still meet people after all these years, who can't believe I don't drink or smoke or do any drugs. It's always funny to me, that this would be so rare, for a person to be drug free. Its funny, and sad at the same time. People should be exposed to this way of life, so they can make the best choices for themselves.
What's the motivation for you to still play hardcore and produce hardcore music after you're in the scene for such a long time?
To me, nothing has more energy then hardcore. I listen to wide variety of music, but as far as playing guitar, nothing is more fun than hardcore to me. Mix that with the fact that there's normally a strong message in the hardcore music, it makes it one of the most fulfilling forms of music a person can play. My opinion on this will never change, I enjoy playing it as much now as I always did. I'd say the rest of the band feels the same, otherwise we wouldn't still be here.
Hey, what about Fort Knox? The only thing I know about this act is that you released and album a couple of years ago together with Issa, right? Did you ever do anything like that afterwards apart from the participation on "Straight outta hardcore" by Good Clean Fun, hehe...
Well (I'm laughing), the project was always only for fun. Believe it or not, Issa and I actually had a pretty big entertainment lawyer in New York City that wanted to try to get us a deal as a rap group, but at the time I was too busy going on tours with Battery and Damnation a.d., and really didn't want to be a rapper. We still record and produce a lot of hip hop at our studio, so we enjoy working with that style very much, but I only rap for fun.
I always wanted to know why Battery split up back then, so please help me out with this one. Did you ever think about doing a reunion, maybe just for a couple of shows like Mouthpiece did?
We never thought about it. Personally, I'm not into reunions, I like to end with that feeling that you didn't quite get enough. But anything is always possible. I think Battery did everything we wanted to do, there wouldn't be much reason to do anything else.
And why did the third Better than a 1000 album we talked about before never came out?
Two reasons: Better Than A Thousand was a project that turned into a very full time band, which wasn't our original goal, and also Ray stopped being straightedge, and that caused a lot of problems to be honest. For us, we were his friends and we wanted to support any decisions he made. But the scene was hard on him with a lot of trash talking, almost all of it was untrue. Ray didn't want to do another CD because of this bad feeling that was left at that point in time. So we didn't pressure him into anything, we just moved on. Actually as I do this interview, I am coming back from visiting Ray in California, and even though he's totally drug-free, he still resents how the scene turned on him so quickly, like they wanted to see him fall. Its very sad when people want to attack when somebody is down instead of reaching out to help. I guess Ray could answer this better for himself, I speak towards how I understood it.
In the last few years old school hardcore wasn't very popular, at least that's what I think considering the scene over here in Europe. Many bands were doing some kind of metalcore, but I think now could be the time for a new rising of old school. Would you agree and do you think that FTE can contribute to this?
Sure, I mean we were the guys that brought some of the old school bands to the kids in the past; maybe we can do it again. I think we all know how to write and record good old-school style hardcore records.
What about touring with FTE, will you ever come to Europe (I hope so!!!)?
Tim is having a baby with his wife, but as soon as they're all settled in we'll be over there! We really look forward to playing these songs with the CD having been out for some kids to have checked out, and hopefully be able to sing along!!
Ok Ken, I guess that's it! Hopefully you liked this interview. Thanks a lot for taking the time answering my questions! Do want to say anything to end this interview?
Thanks for taking the time to put these questions together for me and FTE. And thanks for checking out the split. I hope you enjoy the full length even more! We look forward to playing these songs live and seeing you, and everybody else who's feeling FTE, in person!! Thanks again!!!