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Sick Of It All: Interview with Non-Stop Hardcore Legends

Sick Of It All are still crushing it 25 years since their first release. Sick Of It All are still crushing it 25 years since their first release.

Sick Of It All is undoubtedly one of the most important and enduring hardcore bands ever. They helped invent New York hardcore back in the ‘80s and 25 years later they’re going just as hard as ever. We had a chance to catch up with guitarist Pete Koller, who, alongside his brother Lou, founded the band with drummer friend Armand Majidi. Bassist Craig Setari joined in 1992, and has been on board ever since, making Sick Of It All one of the longest running hardcore bands ever. We caught up with Pete in New York to talk about many things, including their new record, Nonstop, on which the band re-recorded some of their classic songs.

RosebudMag.com: Why did you decide to make Nonstop a retrospective?

Pete Koller: We really liked the way our last two albums came out production wise with Tue Madsen, so we thought, “Why don’t we pick some of our favorite songs from the first or second record or whatever and see what it sounds like with Tue doing it?” I always go back and listen to the first record, and I didn’t even know how to use a tuner back then. Those are really cool songs and we wanted to hear how they sounded recorded more professionally. We were doing a European tour and we said, “Instead of playing club shows in between the weekend festivals, why don’t we go up to Tue’s house in Denmark?” We recorded 18 or 20 songs in three days. Something like that. We just got together and played and took the best cuts of them.

Another reason we wanted to do them was because a lot of people don’t even know the first, second, or third record. Outside of the U.S., a lot of our fans only got into us since we started working with Century Media. We wanted to refresh everyone’s memories.

RM: It’s interesting to hear you say that on the first record you didn’t even know how to tune your guitar. Are you talking about the seven-inch?

PK: All the way through the Blood, Sweat, and No Tears record.

RM: So you just kind of picked up a guitar and started rocking?

PK: I learned from going to shows at CBGB’s. We were like, “Wow. We could do this, too!” I always wanted to play guitar, but I never wanted to go take lessons because I always hated the authority of school. Even though it’s something I wanted to do, I still didn’t want someone telling me how to do it.

RM: Playing some of these songs must be like second nature by now. Did you have any challenges in the studio?

PK: No. Not really. Before we did this, my brother Lou put a message on Facebook asking people what songs they wanted us to re-record and they were pretty much songs that were already in our set list. Most of them except songs like “The Deal” and “G.I. Joe Headstomp,” stuff from the first record. And we were like, “Fuck it. Let’s just do those ones too because those are our favorite songs.”

RM: It’s cool to hear KRS-One back. Have you maintained a relationship with him all these years?

PK: Well, the way the first time that came about was that back in the ‘80s, punk, hardcore, and hip-hop were all street music. So we were all underground. You know, the Beastie Boys would always be at hardcore shows and we would always go to hip-hop shows because it was kind of the same feel. Back then, my oldest brother’s girlfriend was working in a studio where KRS-One was doing Ms. Melodie’s record, his wife at the time. So my brother's girlfriend told him, “Hey why don’t you check out this punk band’s record?” And he checked out the lyrics and it was “Injustice System” and stuff like that, and he was like, “Wow. This is some real shit.” So we just asked if he could do an intro for the record and he was psyched about it.

25 years later, when we were coming up with this thing, I was like, “Let’s get KRS to do a new intro for us.” When our people got in touch with him he was like, “I’ve been following these guys for years. They’re just like me. They do really good for themselves, but they’re not the mainstream. They’re not on TV, but they’re still there and telling truth with their lyrics.” So he was really psyched about it. At the end of the record, he also did a full rap at the end of “Clobbering Time” and he does a spoken word thing at the end of it. When we heard it we were like, “Wow. This is really fucking good.”

It was so good, we might do a full collaboration coming up. Maybe an album or just a song. We’d actually like to tour together. Especially in Europe, people would come from all over to see something like that. We did that in the ‘80s. It was Sick Of It All, Rest in Pieces, and Boogie Down Productions and a whole bunch of other people from KRS-One’s crew. It was such a cool show and it was still underground.

RM: That first 7” on Revelation remains a hardcore classic. When you look back at that time, does it seem surreal that Sick Of It All has become the legendary band that it is today? Or do you see yourself as still just a bunch of kids making hardcore?

PK: Not kids. (laughs) But just a bunch of guys making hardcore. I mean, a lot of people say that we’re legends or this or that. It’s very flattering. This is all we’ve done for the last 25 years. Touring, recording, making friends everywhere.

RM: Was there ever a time when it seemed like SOIA might not keep going? Or was there never any question?

PK: There’s no question. This is what we want to do. And at this point in our lives, what are we going to do? First of all, this is our passion. If we stopped doing it, I don’t know what would happen. We’d sink into a deep depression probably. (laughs) And then what are we going to do? Get an entry-level mailroom job under an 18-year-old boss or something like that?

RM: I imagine there’s a wide range of ages in your audience – the kids who are just discovering you and the people who have been fans since the beginning. What makes Sick Of It All, or hardcore itself, so timeless?

PK: First of all, it’s being born with a certain, I don’t know, gene in you where you’re never really in the norm and you don’t want to be in the norm. The people who are my age who still come to the shows, they love music so much. And when they were kids coming to these shows, that music to them is what they live for. Sometimes we get people showing up who are like, “You’re still doing this? I’m too old for this shit.” And I’m like, “Then what are you doing here?” If music made you feel something back then, if you’re true to it and it really hit a chord with you, it will always make you feel something.  

Those people who are my age coming to the shows, they bring their kids to the shows because they want their kids to experience what mom and dad were into. And show them that this is why mom and dad think this way, and this why I look this way, and this is why I feel this way about politics. And it’s a learning experience for the kids. And it shows the younger generation that you don’t have to watch TV and have that tell you what music to like. You know what I’m saying? Things like American Idol. To me that is the weirdest, most backwards thing. Some corporation is going to tell you what to like, when music is supposed to make you feel something – make you cry, make you scream, make you change your mind about a political view. Hopefully, it opens the minds of everybody, not just kids.

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Sick Of It All is back with re-recorded versions of classic songs and an appearance by KRS-One!
Last modified on Thursday, 12 July 2012 19:08

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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