Hey Armand, congratulations to another great album by SOIA! How are you at the moment and do you have any introduction to start this interview off with?
I'm doing OK, thanks. At the moment I'm holding the fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie that reads "All of your hard work will pay off soon." If that's true, then the new album is going to do really well. Whenever I get a fortune that's relevant to my life, I hold onto it - call me superstitious, but like I always say: "Never doubt the power of cookies." (Now that's a real cool start, don't you think? Way better than the usual "Fine, thanks" or - even worse - "No." - Stefan)
"Life on the ropes" will be out in a couple of days, so are you excited about what the fans will say? What have been the reactions to the album from the press?
So far it's been really promising. It's cool to see people embrace the direction you chose. I'm optimistic that our fans will eat this record up, because I think it's more consistent and powerful than our last few efforts.
I have to admit that I somehow lost track of SOIA after "Built to last". That album and "Scratch the surface" are some of my personal fave Hardcore records, but after you signed to Fat Wreck I heard some of your music here and there, but never a full length. So how would you describe the evolution the band has made since the deal with Fat Wreck? I didn't expect to hear any major Fat Wreck influences on "Life on the ropes", but I was more than pleased to hear such a strong record by you guys again...
It's hard to keep people's attention when you've been around so long as a band, but we try. The last few albums on Fat haven't really showcased our metal influence as much as the new one, and I've been itching to return to a sound like this. The last two studio records work on their own energy, but 'Yours Truly' was produced by Steve Evetts, and his touch changed the sound of the band quite a bit. We were transformed into a guitar and vocal band, and the rhythm section didn't sound the way it was supposed to.
Before the release of "Life..." there were plans to release a 7" on Bridge 9 Records, but I'm not sure if this 7" already came out? What can you tell me about this 7"? Which songs are on it apart from "Relentless"? Any covers or previously unreleased tracks?
That's been put on hold until early next year. Bridge 9 approached us with this idea of doing a single that would help promote the release of the record, but something got screwed up between them and their distributor which pushed the release date too close to the album. Once it lost its ability to promote the new record and build hype, we figured it would be better to hold off for six months and let it act to keep our momentum going. It has two exclusive tracks on it, called 'Who Will Be Next,' and 'Can't Wait to Quit.' They are definitely not throw away tracks - it was difficult to part with them in the sequencing for the album, but we wanted to keep the single strong as well.
You recorded the new album together with Dean Baltolonis, so was this the first time you also took care of the production duties or did you do that in the past, too? How did come up with Dean and with which bands has he worked with before?
We were introduced to him through Matt Henderson (ex-Agnostic Front and Madball) who is part owner of Atomic Studios. This is the first time we've worked with him, but I don't feel it will be the last. I think we worked well with him, and we can only improve the sound from here. He's been doing a lot of hardcore releases lately (especially for Bridge 9) so it was comforting that he had a history with hardcore. Our experience has been that big name, expensive producers don't know the first thing about recording this kind of music.
"Step down" is probably the definite SOIA singalong anthem, and with "For now" there's a song on "Life..." that has a similar vibe. Was it your intention to capture this anthem feeling or did that just happen naturally?
There have been songs on each record that have touched on the Oi sing along style. I wrote that song, and wasn't expecting that those riffs would lead to a such a big sing along, but it just came together that way. It fit the music, and made it stronger. We need songs like that - sometimes they're the best part of our live set. (I agree, just look how the crowd gets crazy when they hear "Step down" - Stefan)
Talking about the songwriting: Is there any major songwriter in the band or do you create most of the music together? And what about the lyrics, who writes them?
I've stepped it up lately and put a lot of the music and lyrics together. Pete still writes a good amount of music, and Craig brings in some songs that are usually the blasts of old-school insanity. Lou does some lyrics as well, but what I think you hear on this record is what happens when everyone has a voice in the arrangement and flow of the songs. Even if I do write the music and lyrics for a song, the other guys make their mark by having their say about how it should sound.
A very cool thing is that you have John Joseph doing some vocals on "Paper tiger". As you both are legends of NYHC, who came up with the idea of having him sing on that track? What is he doing nowadays (I heard of a Cro-Mags reunion with him and Harley?)?
John has been offering for a long time to do some guest vocals, and it finally came together. It was great when he came to the studio. He's really full of energy, and he was excited that 'Paper Tiger' had the same subject matter as a screen play he's been working on. Last summer, we did a NY show with him and Harley as the Cro-Mags, but I don't think they're continuing with it. I think he's trying to start a new band with a somewhat all-star line up.
You did a video for "District" (artist Michael Pappa also did the artwork for the "Live in a Dive" record and also for the new album) and have done some more videos in the past, so did you ever think about doing a DVD with all these videos on and some live footage, too?
A couple of years ago we released 'The Story So Far' which is a home video. It was done by Brant Sersen who did another popular hardcore video called 'Release' and I think he did a great job. It never made it on a DVD format, but it would be nice if it did (hint, hint, Fat Wreck!) At the end of that, we added all the videos we've done to that point.
I totally love that "Step down" video with all the various dance movements, so what was your favourite move in the pit when you were a kid ;-)
It was the gorilla, because you carve out your own spot in the pit. Only when you have space can you have style.
The line up of SOIA didn't change much considering the long time you're around. What do you think is the reason for this?
I think it's because we're willing to bend to appease each other, even when artistic vision is on the line. Everyone feels lucky to be able to do this for a living, so we try not to jeopardize our own reality.
And what about your motivation after all this time, what makes you still going after all these years?
We're musicians. We want to create music, and perform it well live. That's motivation enough for me.
As Craig played in the legendary Youth of Today in the past (I had the chance to see them live this year during their reunion in Europe and they ruled), what do you think about their reunion? Some people don't seem to like it, but honestly I think that it's cool for kids who never had the chance to seem them in the past (like me), so what's your opinion about that?
I think people focus too much on YOT's message, and not their music. I know they stood for something more in people's hearts, but they were a band who put out records, not an activist group. I accept them as people who set very difficult standards for themselves. Seeing them was great because it reminded me of that tribal, purist old-school style.
And what's your attitude towards sXe? I read in an interview with Lou quite a while ago that apparently he's sXe, so what about the rest of the band?
Don't believe the hype! I've thrown wine parties that Lou has sneaked in on! When he drinks he gets really loud, but he never gets shit-faced. That's Craig and my department. Pete is the straightest one of the group. I think straight edge is a positive movement, as long as it's done for personal reasons and not because of the trend. The people that have stuck to it over the years have always been the one's who don't wear the uniform, and don't try to preach their lifestyle choice to others. Those are the edgers I admire.
Lou also said in that interview that he has a son, so what about you? I could imagine that having a family has an influence on a band like SOIA, too, because you might not want to tour so much...
I miss my family a lot when I go on the road. It's a bum out, but what can you do? This year I'm lucky enough to spend their birthdays with them, but it doesn't always work out like that. As a band, we try to always put a couple of weeks in between tours, but that should be mandatory anyway because we operate at such an intense level in the live setting. Besides, family time is priceless.
Talking about touring, I'm sure there will be some to support the new record soon, so which bands will you take with you this time? Will you once again bring some rather unknown bands with you to present them to a larger audience (great attitude by the way!)?
We try to put interesting bills together. Sometimes it flops, sometimes it works out, but at least we keep people guessing and add variety to scene that can get pretty stagnant if every band sounds the same. We don't know who'll be touring with us in Europe yet, we're in the process of asking around.
I think you're one of the few Hardcore bands that has been on a major label without getting any shit for that. I think it's sad that so many HC bands are let down because they signed to a major label, but what is the reason in your opinion that this didn't happen with SOIA? Whenever I talk to people in the HC scene it's always like "Yeah, SOIA are pretty big, but they still are honest and they still kick ass." What do you think?
SOIA caught all the finger pointing back when we signed with Relativity in the States. Even though they were a big independent, it still caused all kinds of problems within a NY scene that started getting really DIY back in the late eighties. By the time we signed with a major in '94, people were over it. I think the sound of 'Scratch' also helped, because no-one could say we sold out or compromised.
Now here's something I hope you can help me out: Whatever happened to Civ?!? I mean I really liked CIV, but after the break up I only heard that he'd be working in a tattoo shop in New York, so do you know more about him?
Just that he's a really successful tattoo artist now, who lives in a nice brownstone in Harlem. He had a child recently, and my wife and I donated a lot of baby clothes and a nice bassinet to their child's cause. I don't think he has any new musical project happening at the moment.
Alright, I guess we're at the end of this interview. Hopefully you liked it and thanks a lot for taking the time answering these questions!
Thanks for the interview!