the first step
There are not many Old School / Youth Crew Hardcore bands around these days that really move me as much as The First Step do. This band has everything what Hardcore means to me: Great Youth Crew Hardcore in the 88 / 96 vein, great lyrics, a positive attitude, energetic live shows and nice people. Their demo and their EP is absolutely amazing, and their first full length "What we know" is due out this fall. I didn't want to wait until this album comes out but did an interview with their singer Stephen now, so check it out and support this great band!!
Hey Stephen, thanks for taking the time answering these questions! How are you at the moment, what would you do right now if you'd not be answering these questions and do you have any introduction to start this interview off with?
Well, if I wasnít doing this interview I would be playing video games, at the gym, with my fiancť or maybe working on lyrics. Just things I care about doing. I guess to introduce myself, my name is Stephen and I sing for The First Step.
After your great demo and the even better "Open hearts and clear minds" EP it seems to me that everyone in the Hardcore scene is eagerly awaiting your first full length, so please give me the current status?
We started recording the January 7-9th. We are hoping to get all the music done then. I am so excited about this record. The music is exactly what we want and lyrically it has been such a great experience writing them. That may sound strange but when you sit down to write lyrics itís not like you have all the knowledge in the world at your fingertips. You really have to contemplate how you feel about things and this really shows you a lot about yourself. We hope to have this record out in April, but you never know. ("What we know" will come out this fall - Stefan)
Speaking of the recording sessions: Walter from Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Quicksand etc. etc. is producing it, right? How did you get in touch with him and isn't that something like a dream come true for you working with one of the most prominent people in the Hardcore community?
It is to a certain extent. Walter has always been a guy who Iíve respected and looked at his bands as a cut above the rest both musically and lyrically. I totally donít feel star struck around him because he is such a down to earth guy and he relates to you not on a fan-idol level but just on a friend to friend level. When my girlfriend and I broke up for a few months this summer he called me up and took the time to talk me through some of it, which meant so much to me. I guess I am glad he is producing it because he will bring a different perspective to this whole record but more than anything I feel like Iíve gained a real friend through this.
How would you describe working together with Wally? Is he still involved in the Hardcore scene? I remember seeing him a few years back with Rival Schools in Germany playing in front of about 40 people, but it was nevertheless one of the best shows I ever went to. At the end he played "Start today" on his guitar and sang which was totally cool, but on the other hand he didn't take part in the 2003 Youth of Today reunion, so I was curious if he's still into Hardcore...
Into hardcore is such a loose phrase. I mean he grew up loving hardcore and he totally still does. At the same time I think most people find that as they grow up their love of core doesnít disappear but they also want to hear something new. I love YOT but I couldnít listen to them for the next 20 years!! Walter still loves the things he always loved about hardcore so he will come out to a cool show, like the Insted show at CBís, but he doesnít actively go to local hardcore shows. Working with him is great because he isnít some disillusioned old man, trying to live off all his past bands. He is actively interested in still playing music and doing what he truly loves. But at the same time you could have a conversation about growing up in the NYC hardcore scene and he will be totally into it. Really he has such an immense positive energy about him which seems to make him enthusiastic about everything he does. That is a total inspiration to me personally as well as the fact that he is such an example of taking the good aspects of hardcore and applying them to ones life. Heís a great dude, seriously.
I heard that you met with Walter before the actual production started, so what about that? Was he also involved in arranging the songs or what was the reason for that?
We have just gotten together with him and worked on the songs. We would just come to him with songs and some he would say were awesome and others were good but what if we tried something different at certain points. The idea of a producer is just someone who knows more about recording than you do so you can get exactly what you want and someone who can look at your songs from a different perspective and help improve them. Walter has always been so cool about this. If we didnít dig an idea he had that was alright, he wasnít offended just more inspired to keep thinking!
What can we expect from the full length? I mean I'm so curious about this album as I truly love your demo and the EP, so please give me as many information as possible regarding the album (how many songs, possible guest appearances, etc.).
The record will be far and away the best thing weíve done. If people said the EP was like YOT then this record will be like YOT mixed with Minor Threat with a tad of UC in there. Just fast, positive hardcore. I think itís a natural progression for us cause we can never write songs that werenít hardcore but weíve grow as a band to; in our lyrics and the way we write our songs. Iím not one for guest appearances honestly. I can see the appeal but we want this record to have a lasting impact and having other people sing on your record seems a little bogus to me. The title of the LP will be WHAT WE KNOW and that is exactly what it is all about, what we know and believe as people. It will be 12 songs. Some titles; Face The Pain, Time to Understand and No Way to Live.
Some songs of your demo didn't make it on "Open hearts and clear minds" so I was wondering if they'll make it on the album? Especially a song like "As it is" is one of my personal faves from The First Step, so will you use some of these songs?
We re-recorded both As It Is and We All Die during the LP session. Iím not sure which one will be on the LP but whichever one is not it will be on a compilation that Rich and Steve from Insted are putting together.
Talking about the demo and the EP: Both were recorded in 2001 with Ken Olden and Issa Diao, right? How did you get in touch with these guys? Did they let you listen to Fort Knox, haha? And what about Good Clean Fun, are they still around and what do you think about them? I sometimes have the impression that their reputation is not that good in the Hardcore scene; what do you think?
I liked a song or two by GCF and I thought that a couple songs were pretty witty but on the whole I like my hardcore serious. While there are a lot of kids who donít like them here in the US there are a ton of kids who do. When they did that reunion tour a while back I thought no one would be into them but I heard the shows were HUGE! The demo was not recorded at Monster Island (Ken and Issaís studio) it was recorded in Winston-Salem, NC with our friend Noel Hunter who runs a small studio there. That is also where we recorded the What We Know sessions. The EP was recorded at Monster Island. We had heard that those guys had a studio and that it was a studio that Dave Grohl from Nirvana/Foo Fighters used to own and the drum sound there was supposed to be killer. Plus we liked the idea of doing the record with people who knew what was up with hardcore. It turned out great. No complaints! Fort Knox rules!
How is it being on Livewire Records, a truly dedicated Hardcore label and meeting people like Tim McMahon or former Bold members (in Running Like Thieves)? If I remember right Pete from Livewire told me that he would be living in the same flat as you (or was it Aaron?), so it seems that everyone involved in Livewire (the bands and the people working at Livewire) is pretty close to each other?
When we first started thinking about doing a band we talked about how we wanted a label that we could grow with, meaning it could help us get our stuff out and we in turn could help it build a solid foundation. We totally feel we have done just that with Livewire, theyíve really become a great label and I am glad we had some hand in that. The other nice thing about LWR is that we are all close. Aaron lives with Pete Russo, we see Tim and Ed pretty regularly, TFS and Triple Threat (Tim and Edís new band) will be playing shows together so it does have a certain understood purpose behind it that everyone seems to share which I really like. As for Tim he is a great guy, just a nice, down to earth person. He also has probably the best collection of Hardcore/punk records and shirts EVER!
I think you must be pretty bored when it comes to the split of The First Step? I think everything has been said in the past, and the thing that counts is that you're back together. But there's one thing I'd like to know: What about the bass position? I mean when I saw you play live in Germany last summer, the bass duties were taken over by Per from Damage Control if I remember right. What was the reason for that and did you find a bass player yet?
We are in a very unique position right now. We donít play all the time so we have a good amount of time to plan ahead before shows. Greg Bacon from Carry On, Stand Fight etc., is really the guy who holds it down for us in that department but he lives in California so itís not always feasible for him to come out and play shows. It would be nice to have a stable lineup but we donít want to have just a warm body in the position; we want a real friend and that can be hard to find in our immediate area so in the meantime we just make due having good friends play with us. Itís really not bad honestly because whether itís Greg or Marcus from Damage Control they are dudes who we can stand behind 100% so it works.
Talking about this European tour: What were your impressions when it comes to that tour? I was really enthusiastic when I saw you play because so much positive energy could be felt. Would you agree? When I saw the schedule of that tour I thought that it wasn't the best actually because one day played in Belgium and the next in Spain so to speak. What do you think about that tour in retrospect and what about the people you met along the way?
I can speak for the whole band on this one, we loved Europe! It was hard doing some of those drives. If I had it to do over I would probably have gone for 4 weeks so that we could have gone to Portugal and just had enough time to not have to drive so far. But looking back it was worth it, all of it. We got to go to so many awesome places like Spain and Norway, places that I just didnít think I would ever go. Plus we got to play so many good shows along the way.
I was very happy to see that more and more bands are playing old school Hardcore again. I mean I had the impression that some time ago, most bands were playing Hardcore that reminded me to bands like American Nightmare or Right Brigade, while the classic Youth Crew Hardcore with back-ups, breakdowns etc. was almost completely dead. But now bands like The First Step or Champion could make this sound more popular again, what do you think?
The kind of hardcore we play is what I have always loved. I donít think you are going to see that sound get enormously popular again. Not big enough to rival the hard hardcore crowd because this kind of hardcore really appeals to a certain taste and it usually has some sort of lyrical integrity that comes before the music. But the metal hardcore scene and Terror type scene appeals to more people because it is harder and can draw on a much different crowd. Anyone that liked Rage Against the Machine could easily like Terror, a hard sound like that is really big in popular music these days to. I also think that a lot of people donít want to hear about values or beliefs or things like that they more want to have music to dance to loose their shit over, not to think about. Which is fine. I would love to have more kids get into this type of hardcore because it makes shows more fun and I think a lot of bands have the capacity to make people really think about their lives but I also like a close nit scene that does water itself down for popularities sake.
What makes you write positive music/lyrics in these times that are often anything but positive?
Weíve gotten questions similar to this one a lot. There are lots of things that are going on that are really sad and can bring you down; people starving, killing in the Middle East, fighting in Russia, men beating women etc. But along with that there are always great things or even little joys that still take place and inspire people. Itís all in what you choose to focus on. Yes, some periods in life are worse than others but very seldom do we stop and think about how lucky we are when we are at a point of good health and things are going our way. Everything will change in life, nothing is static and I have to remind myself of this a lot cause itís easy to just get caught up in the cycle of life and not look at the bigger picture. To answer you question though, I donít try to write positive lyrics that is just how we as people and me as the singer think and look at life. A lot of our songs talk about fear, doubt, anger, hatred; real negative things and how we feel these things but how they also arenít going to define us as people cause I think that is the key. I donít think anyone WANT to feel negative and broken but we also donít always do a lot to fix it either.
I think it's no secret that The First Step is a straight edge band, and being sXe myself I always find it interesting to talk about sXe in interviews. I often have the impression that most bands that are very outspoken about sXe break up after a few years and many of the members stop being sXe. I mean I really don't care if somebody is sXE or not and I definitely do not condemn anybody for no longer being sXe, I just wonder what's the reason for this development. What do you think?
Iíve got lots of friends who drink and Iíve got lots of friends who were straight edge and arenít anymore. Life changes a lot from the time most people get into hardcore and then when they are in their mid twenties and people change a lot too. If we love and respect people then turning your back on someone because they stop being straight edge means you are the person that is going to loose cause straight edge is great, but itís not for everyone and it also isnít the only answer for how to live a good life. I guess people should focus more on the people they deal with and less on the labels those people hold. That being said, I am proud to be straight edge but it really goes further than not drinking etc. There is more to it than that. Cause I see a lot of people who are straight edge but donít do a damn thing with their lives, they waste them just the same as anyone else. Everyone has a chance to do something with the time they are given on Earth and you can only hope we each do our part.
What does sXe mean to you personally? I think everyone would agree that sXe means not to drink alcohol, not to smoke and not to take any other drugs, but what about vegetarianism/veganism? And what about the line "Don't fuck" in Minor Threat's "In my eyes"? Do you think it is possible to have one night stands and still consider oneself as sXe?
I think I already kind of answered this but to touch on one night stands; yes. Itís not a great way to live no doubt, just trying to fuck anything you can, but I think that is more just a part are you living a healthy life. Straight edge can be interpreted many ways so when it comes to vegetarianism or sex you can take real hardline stance or you cannot I donít think one makes you better or worse. I just know what works for me.
What do you think about reunions just like the Insted or Youth of Today reunions?
I love reunions. Those Insted shows were some of the best Iíve ever been to. (Yeah, definitely: The Insted Euro tour was AMAZING!! - Stefan) I can see where people question the motives for it and I do to sometimes but I support people playing the music and singing the words they wrote before I just think a lot of the people that talk shit on reunions are in no place to judge what people in older bands are feeling and donít even try to think how they would feel. I am not into them though when they are obviously for money, that just cheapens hardcore a bit.
What are you guys doing besides The First Step? Some of you have other bands I heard? And what about working, studying etc.?
Aaron plays in Triple Threat and they shred! Izzy works and so do I. I work for a middle school teaching kids with learning disabilities. Iím also going back to graduate school to get a masterís in special education. We all just try to keep busy with different things.
I guess we're at the end of this interview. Did you like it and do you have any last words? Thanks for taking the time answering my questions and take care!
The interview was great! Thank you and good luck w/ the zine!
All pictures courtesy of Jeff Terranova and his website The Anti-Emo Empire! Check it out, it's great!