Please introduce yourself first!
I’m Chris and I sing in Cruel Hand.
So how was the start of the tour?
It’s been fucking hectic. This is the first day for us. It started yesterday, but we had some scheduling problems and it was just a long day of catching up. It was like 24 hours of traveling. We made it for the second show today. It’s a bummer that we didn’t play yesterday.
And what do you expect of today?
I’m excited to finally play in Europe again, but I’m a little sleepy. I tried to take a nap but I couldn’t. I think the other guys were able to catch a bit of sleep today but I was doing merch. I think when it comes down to show time we get a little burst of energy and it will work out. Our last tour was a while ago, two years I think. Nasty reached out to us for this tour and I looked at the lineup and I was excited. Every band brings their own kind of thing to the lineup.
What is the current lineup of Cruel Hand and in which other bands do the guys play (or where did they use to play)?
Brian Wilcox, he was in Alpha & Omega, before that he was in Verse. He’s a New England dude. We got Andrew on lead guitar, he’s a Massachussets kid. He played in a couple of bands before, a band called Our Side and in Streetsweeper. On drums it’s Ryan who has been with us for a couple of years now and Seger has basically been in the band since the beginning, he just took a year off and came back. Our lineup is a hard thing to maintain, you know? Last February, that’s when some of the drastic things happened line-up-wise and we were in a position where we had to be a four-piece for a moment to continue and to finish up the things that we had booked. We weren’t willing to cancel those things that we had, we wanted to keep going and we were able to do that. We have done that before, actually with some of the original guys. Nate, who was in the band since the beginning, he had a stin on drums at one point even. So quite recently our two guitarists left the band and that was after the record was done.
Why was that?
I couldn’t say. We did a great record that we are all proud of and then they left the band.
Why did Nate leave the band and does he have a new band?
He’s always got little things going. DNA is one band, I think he’s got some other stuff. But, you know, it’s just stuff that is “hobby stuff” at home. No pressure, no stress. Maybe we were too much on the road for him, he had been doing it for a long time.
So let’s talk about your new record, “The Negatives”. What do you think is the overall response you got for it?
It’s a very mixed response and it generates a lot of conversation for a record. I think a lot of conversation that we haven’t had before with the other record. So I think that’s good even if it’s a lot of negative feedback, there’s always an equal amount of positive to go with it. I’m excited just for the fact that people talk about the record. Of course we were expecting some kind of different feedback, that’s why we did it. We started the record with “Pissing Spitting”, which is just a punkrock song and we knew that there was gonna be backlash. And there were some kids that put the record on and stopped it, they couldn’t listen through it right when they heard that song.
Was there any reason that the songwriting got a bit softer?
We were done writing a record in a particular box, like “This has to be a New York Hardcore sounding record”, “This one’s gotta be a metal influenced sounding record”. We wanted to cover all the bases and we wanted to any kind of song, whatever we were feeling. We wanted the music to speak for itself, and if it was going to turn people away, then so be it. We have been doing it for too long to just cater the people who want us to be in a box, you know?
What is the story or the meaning behind the album title and the title track?
I thought it was just a cool concept at the time. We were finished and completed with the record and it was time to name it, and “The Negatives” is one of our or one of my favorite songs of the record personally. “The Negatives” not like in a negative mental attitude, but we wrote the record in the depth of winter in a rehearsal space with no heat. So there’s that way of looking at it. We were in subzero temperatures. It was like “We are living in Maine, it’s negatives and it sucks” and just kind of seeing those things in your own personal life as well. And trying to overcome those things. It’s kind of giving your all to something to a point where you’re below zero and you’re seeing the consequences that may come from that, but still living in that lifestyle. We sacrifice so much to be here and do what we love. You may sacrifice your family, your friends and your homelife and you’re living in this kind of “below normal” level. We live there and we’re pursuing our dreams but it has its consequences. It’s a multilayered meaning in there.
I didn’t think about it that way. You could interpret it like a statement towards the people, that they are generally to negative and that they criticize to fast and so on.
And that was a joke that we had because we wanted to take all the negative stuff that we were reading on Twitter and on the internet and just put it on a T-Shirt with “The Negatives”. Some people were dropping some really harsh stuff, almost like homophobic slurs and stuff like that. The trash talk was going beyond where I wanted to be, especially if it were appearing on our social network, on our Facebook and on our Instagram, so we deleted some posts concerning the new record and we even made a statement at some point. Like “Good riddance”, we don’t need hate speech like that to appear on our sites.
Why did you decide to change your record label? You were on Triple B and Closed Casket before, right? Aren’t these a lot of labels in quite a short amount of time?
It was always just agreements to do seven inches with them. When we left Bridge 9, we made this kind of funny statement. Anyways, we wanted to things a little bit more DIY and there was even a point when we wanted to release the full length on our own. We realized that that wasn’t going to happen if we were going to be tour. I mean, how are we going to release this stuff? How are we going to send the record out to people while we’re on the road and all this other DIY label stuff is happening? So we agreed that we weren’t going to do that but we said “Let’s negotiate our own deals with some labels here and release stuff on our own terms and see what happens.”, and that’s what we did. These labels were just friends. Triple B was happy to do it when we had got some new songs and it was the same thing with Closed Casket. And I was actually hoping to do a few more seven inches with other labels and then to compile them all and release them as full length, but that didn’t happen. I think there was no time, concerning the timeline to space those things out logically. Hopeless came into the picture through our booking agent at the time, Andy Rice. To be honest, we weren’t getting a lot of offers, either. We didn’t want to put out another record with Bridge 9 and we were kind of feeling around that we wanted a label that was really able to help us. At the time we needed a lot of help, we needed a bigger budget to be able to continue touring. There were a couple of labels we were in contact with but Hopeless has kind of an audible fit as it was, it was the best situation for us. And without them, I think we wouldn’t be touring anymore. The exposure has been great, they put us in contact with a lot of interviewers and stuff. So they got that whole thing on lock, it’s great. I have no real complaints. It sucks that your average hardcore kid is going to look at that and will nod his head and won’t understand. It wasn’t an easy thing to decide, it took a little time to get everyone on board. Maybe it was something that pushed some of the other guys away. There’s a lot more yellow tape when you sign with a real label, with more paperwork and things that you can and you can’t do, and they have got complete control of the music, the finished product. But Hopeless is bringing the outside-of-the-box touring to you and there’s a bit of pressure there, they want you to do it and they’ll pull strings to make things happen but I think really at the end, it’s up to you. If you say no, and that sours your relationship, you made your bet and you gotta live with the consequences. Maybe you won’t do a record with them the next time around. We were doing a lot of mixed touring, but we even did that before we were on Hopeless records. We did some metalcore kind of tours, like The Acacia Strain, Stray from the Path, so things not too far outside of the box. But recently, we did tours with Neck Deep, Real Friends, pop-punk kind of stuff. Stuff where I think your average Hardcore band would say no and if they did say yes, it would break them. We were like “Alright, let’s just get up on stage and take your business” and I think that was the difference between us and a lot of the other bands. We were willing to get up on any stage and represent the tour, represent us and just show people what it’s all about.
Do you have a contract for a certain number of releases with Hopeless?
I think they have got the option and if this record does well, then they’ll offer us to have the next record. If they don’t want to, they can clean their hands.
The Negatives features some of the softest and punkiest songs you have done up til now. Can you imagine that the next record is going to be even softer or do you just want to keep reinventing the band and go with whatever you like writing then?
It’s crazy, because basically we can do anything at this point. We took the hardest step. Part of me wants to write the heaviest thing, this insane hardcore record, like the hardest stuff you heard. But a part of me wants to continue on the path. When “The Negatives” was done, I didn’t think we went as crazy as we wanted it to be. I wanted every other song to have like other “outside”-elements. That’s what I like about CIV’s “Set Your Goals”. Every other song, like you got a radio song for them and then a straight up hardcore song, stuff that sounds like a heavier Gorilla Biscuits or something like that. And I thought that was so cool, and somehow it worked. You could listen to the record all the way through and it feels like one complete sing but if you were to separate the real hardcore songs from the other stuff, then you could have two like different EP’s. Execution is the hard thing. This record was a hard thing to execute correctly. There were so many different track listings for us, and different versions of songs. We could have played it safe and started the record with… originally we wanted to do it with “Scars for the Well Behaved”. 45 seconds, fast and thrashy hardcore, the heaviest moshpart on the record but we were like “Where’s the fun in that? Let’s like live on the edge on that.” Was this a bad decision for us in the long run? Maybe. Maybe we could have offered something more digestible and going from there and let the kids find those other songs on the record.
You have done a couple of very diverse tours in the past two years. Was there a specific reason for that? Were you sick of playing hardcore shows because it becomes redundant after a while?
No. We are always stoked to play hardcore shows. When we do a different or a mixed tour, we are always excited to do the hardcore tour after that. We kind of wanted to give the hardcore kids a break from us. We have been a band that is always touring with our friends in their hardcore bands that I felt like we needed to step away and show these other genres what we are all about and then come back. And I think if you want to grow, you got to juggle those things. Cause you don’t want to neglect your roots, where we’re from. For me, some of these Acacia Strain tours, kids would come up years after that and would tell me that they discovered Hardcore through Cruel Hand on that tour. And that brings a lot of a sense of accomplishment to me, because every hardcore kid started somewhere. He wasn’t born a hardcore kid. And I think it’s hard with this new record to do a headlining pure hardcore tour. The idea of the mixed touring is to get those kids to come out. And when they do, sometimes they don’t have the hardcore show etiquette and they don’t know what’s happening. Kids will leave the show bloody and hurt, and now you’re scared that they won’t come back ever again. It’s hard, because there’s kids that discovered you with Prying Eyes or Lock & Key and they want to hatemosh and crowdkill and stuff, and then there’s other people that discovered you through pop punk and it’s hard for me to watch that sometimes. That’s why we obviously stop some shows, but yeah.
You have been around for quite some time now compared to the usual hardcore band. My first time seeing Cruel Hand was a couple of yours ago with Have Heart and Carpathian. But you also played in Outbreak before. How would you say has the hardcore scene changed in the years of your existence?
It’s crazy seeing it shift and change and seeing what’s popular. That one band changes things and the whole scene kind of shifts. And then it shifts again, and then three years later it shifts again. When these shifts happen, you either go with it or you’re just like “I’m out” and you’re going to be the guy who is like “back in my days…”. I feel like the scene is ready for something different, for a certain change. Things are going to shift and I know that things are happening under the surface, for sure. There’s some great bands with positive messages, and straight edge bands. Fast bands that are straying away from the heavier, moshy stuff. When there’s a change, it’s always a change to some thing that maybe has run out of it’s course.
Could you name some of those bands that managed to “shift” the scene?
Yeah, I think a timeline where I was old enough to witness it happening was Ten Yard Fight into like American Nightmare. Things went kind of from posi to more like that sad, mud, dark stuff. And then Mental Crew and that whole thing popped up and it was a huge thing for a while. And then there was like Trash Talk and Mongoloids. Well… Have Heart, where was that in there? My timeline is kind of mixed up. But yeah, Have Heart and then TUI kind of stuff picked up when they left. It’s obviously Turnstile right now. The fun thing with hardcore kids is like there’s only room for one band at a time to have the acceptance of the entire hardcore scene. But then you have bands like Bane, that have been there all the time. I’m just happy that we stayed somewhat relevant. We can still play and kids are still coming out and buying the records. And when people list the bands they are listening to right now they are like “Backtrack, Expire, Cruel Hand”. On that sense, we’re still relevant. Our shows may not compare to some of these guys but somehow we are still in there in a way. We are still in the conversation and I am grateful for that, I guess.
Do you feel like the mentality of the scene has changed within the last 10 or 15 years?
Man. Just the mentality overall? I think so, yeah. I think there’s more.. there’s Hardcore, there’s Pop Punk, there’s Metalcore and there’s a grey area that combines everything and that is bigger than anything. There’s a lot of kids that I feel like who don’t 100% understand the concept behind hardcore. That it’s more like a community, that it’s about looking out for each other and I think that a lot of kids don’t realize that and they think that it is about buying merch and post it on Tumblr or something like that. I think there is the small core, that will always be there doing Hardcore for real in the small basements and stuff, with the community aspects. But on the bigger scale, there’s people that support the bands still but don’t really get that. There might be more support from those kids because they don’t have the elitist mentality but at the same time maybe they don’t know the roots of the music and what it is all about. A double-edged sword.
Bands like Madball or Sick of it All didn’t really change too much of their sound throughout all of their records, but still they are relevant to the hardcore scene. Do you think it is possible for younger HC bands to fill these footsteps? Can you imagine still doing Cruel Hand in like 10 years and if so, how would you manage to stay relevant? Does it take switching up your sound on every album for that?
I mean if you started with something great, then maybe you know deep inside that you need to stick with that and not try to change it up too much, maybe. Those bands just have that legacy that people respect and they gravitate towards that. I hope that maybe something outside of Cruel Hand keeps me grounded with the scene and therefore can keep Cruel Hand relevant and grounded with the scene as well. Like Freddy, he’s still doing things like Black n Blue Bowl, he is managing bands. He is on the pulse, and I respect that. I think Cruel Hand was my second win. Outbreak had toured and was successful and had kind of stayed on this pedestal of success where we were only playing with the bigger bands. We didn’t know that there was like a frenzy of activity happening beneath us. We were on tour with Champion, or with Bane only, or with Agnostic Front. And if you’re doing that all the time you lose sight and relevance. I just hope that I can continue to support the younger bands and to bring them out with us. It is a hard question if it is still possible to kind of build a legacy as a hardcore band right now. I mean, Terror is doing a great job following some of those footsteps. And for me, that is one reason to continue doing it because I see that they can do it and still continue to grow. I think they created some kind of a template on how you do it, growing and still knowing where you come from. Juggle the tours, don’t just stick to hardcore. We don’t want to beat the hardcore kids into the ground. We want to give them a break and tour outside of the box, try to grow, come back and know where you come from. Because there are bands that who started as a hardcore band, then shifted gears and turned their back on it and it didn’t work out and then they came back. And we are never going to be that band.
Like No Warning (laughs).
Yeah, I mean in a way when they went major they kind of went all or nothing there. I don’t know how much of it was just for the show, some of them did probably get thrown head first into that world, but I’m sure some of them didn’t and still had a clear head on what they were doing.
Do you still feel like hardcore bands have something important that they stand for and that this scene still is some kind of safe place for the outsiders or would you say that it lost its meaning and developed to be something more commercial?
Well I think when hardcore in New York City like in the late 80ies was about to pop off. The major music world was looking at New York City like “This thing rap is happening and this other thing is happening, Hardcore”. And I think they were ready and a lot of those guys got deals in the early 90ies with their later projects like Quicksand and CIV and all these guys kind of went on. So I think it peaked really high and since then has had its ups and downs. Right now in Europe, it’s at a high. But that’s kind of how it goes, that’s art. You create it for you and your friends, but that shit spreads and it’s out of your hands at that point. It just kind of snowballs. Those dudes who created that in whatever scene you’re from in your hometown, you see it sprout out of control and you either roll with it and just… it’s hard to explain this whole thing. Because there are guys who just roll with the punches and become the monster that it is or there are people who are just there and support the good bands and they know what it’s about in their heart. They see what it has become but they really know what it’s about.
There has been a lot of criticism towards the government of the United States in the last few years or even decades, but especially with the conflict in the Ukraine in 2014, not just by people outside of the US but by the American people, too. What’s your opinion on that? Do you think and/or debate a lot about these things?
My stance on a lot of the US politics is that there’s always stuff going on behind the scenes. When there is something going on in the world, something crazy, they are going to shift things to the masses in America and be like “Hey, look at this black and blue dress. What color is this thing?” to like distract you from what is happening in the world. I think there’s a lot going on in the world that we get filtered information on, we get it second hand, third hand. Chances are America is involved in what is happening over there. And they rather have us dumb and distracted. They want you glued to your phone, they want you glued to your computer and to your TV. I even talk about that in “Vigilant Citizen”. There’s a lyric “take away this box and game, identity outside the frame”. This box that keeps you safe, whether it’s your house, your TV, your cell phone. Why is it always a box? It’s strange to me how it’s always the box that keeps us safe, gives us shelter but at the same time keeps us distracted, keeps us dumb.
Do you feel like there is a growing anger towards the government among Americans in the last few years?
Definitely, especially with the violence that the police is using. Yeah, something is gotta happen. It has to. It can’t continue, there’s so many protests. What clicked for me was when the Occupy movement was happening. We were on tour and were seeing it in every city and the media wouldn’t touch it because that shit spreads like wildfire. That’s how the idea is getting to people’s brains. Product creates demand, just like any commercial. They put it on TV and put that spin on it, and you want it. If they started covering that stuff and the whole rest of the world or the US started realizing “Oh, there’s shit going down”, with people camping out in cities and protesting. I think they knew that it could have spun out of control and that’s why they weren’t covering. “Oh, nothing’s happening here, don’t worry about it”. And then you have the sensational television news and they are like doing their witchhunts and demonizing people and calling everyone a terrorist. I think if you want to take the biggest step outside of the rat race, the rat wheel, that wheel that they got you just running and running towards nothing… the biggest step that you can take is to get rid of your television. I don’t have one, I watch movies but I don’t have cable TV. I think there are a lot of people who are kind of turning a blind eye to what is going on but I think as soon as the next ten years, when some of this older generation that doesn’t believe the bullshit that the government is creating, as they kind of die off,… they are also the people who control what is going on, they have the money. They have the means to create whatever sort of news or whatever spin they want to put on something. As those people die off I think we are going to be left with a generation of people that see through the bullshit and I think we are going to be in a better place at that point. But I think there’s stuff going on and people are in the streets. But it is such a police state in some of these bigger cities that you can get seriously hurt or killed out there for protesting, for exercising that right. It is scary. These police have guns and they are trigger-happy. Look at the 60ies, they were against all odds even far more intense than today, I would say. But I think a lot of people conditioned the American people to being complacent and look at me, what am I doing? I feel like I should actually be out there doing something. I think the fact that we see both sides is huge. Believe it or not, there are people who just don’t see it. They see the one side, for example “Take your medicine, it’s good for you! Believe us and everything we tell you”, and I think the majority of American people are like that. But there are also the free thinkers and I think that you, me, people in punkrock, hardcore, those types of people are going to be the ones, just like they were in the past, to kind of rise above and to use these ethics in the real world, in a real-life situation. Just spreading a message is going to do a lot, as well. Maybe you are not in the position to stop itself, but you can at least spread the message. One thing about the internet nowadays is that there is a lot of bandwagon activists that take a particular stance for the moment, get real high and mighty about it, and try to sway people and then as soon as something bigger comes along it’s almost like a trend in itself, they hop trends in a way and that is crazy to me. Almost like a trendsetter but with politics, you know? I have seen it first hand. “What happened to that crusade you’re on?” – “Oh, I don’t know.”. They have moved on to something else.
Do you think anything will change within the next few years with that growing discontent towards the government?
I don’t think within the next few years, it’s probably going to take a whole generation of people to just see the dinosaur dying.
In Germany, many people think that it doesn’t even matter which party is in charge, because they will do what they get money for anyways.
Exactly. It’s corporate agendas and lobbyists and people paying for their laws to be passed and for their views to be spread and to get their way. And that is the real bullshit that is going down. Forget about borders and countries. It’s corporations that own the land. These imaginary borders that separate our countries… their loyalty is not to a country, their loyalty is to the dollar. Into whatever corporation owns them. My take on presidency and all that is that these people have been groomed to take each other’s place. I feel like it’s something that has been in place since day one. We have been on this path towards a certain direction and I could get into all kinds of conspiracy theorists, the New World Order and stuff, but let’s save this for another time.
How would you describe the possibilities for young people in the US nowadays?
It’s hard, man. A lot of kids are going to college, going to school because that is what worked for their parents and it was a different age for their parents. Technology wasn’t changing so quickly. Nowadays, you can go to school, leave with a diploma and a huge debt and you are left with a degree that is completely void, completely obsolete because things are changing so fast. I had a friend who graduated in 2001 and then went to school for… something to do with the music industry. The iPod happened, and mp3’s, downloading and the music industry underwent some changes and now he is left with this degree that is obsolete now. He can’t get a job there and he’s a bartender now. Making great money, but he is a bartender. He wasted these years, basically. It’s hard for kids to go out and get jobs nowadays. I have a lot of friends who are going into graphic design and stuff like that just because they feel that the workforce is digital, those are the new trainings.
Do you think that those bad career opportunities are something that pushes young American people to do a band and tour all over the year?
Maybe. As soon as I got out of highschool I started touring with Outbreak and I didn’t look back. School wasn’t for me, somehow I was done with school, but I think a lot of people are scared when they get put in that position to go to school. I think if you are a free thinker and you take that leap of faith into something like a band or music.. I think it has been the greatest education I have ever had. Not just with music. Just the DIY elements and the entrepreneur-like ideas. You learn so much just about running your business. Merchandise, things like that. And networking. There is so many successful people who took what they learned here without a high school degree or a college degree, and they went and became bigger and better things than they ever could have been. I think this is a great education. In the states, they like seeing that you have been in a band for some years. It intrigues a lot of interviewers and bosses. They are like “Wow, that’s cool. You have been a tourmanager?”. Our world is so separate from their world that they think you are doing it on some bigger or grander scale when really you have just been with your friends (laughs).
What are your top 5 new musical discoveries of 2014 (hardcore-related or not)?
2014….? Fuck. (….) Criminal Instinct. I was playing guitar with them for Black n Blue Bowl last year. It was fun. (….) Fuck. My brain stops working whenever I get this question.
Let’s just go to the next question. What would you say are your 5 all time favorite records?
Let’s go with Nirvana – Nevermind. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel. I want to mix it up. Loving Killing Time, Brightside. Something I just put on the other day. Weezer – Blue Album. Oh, back to the other question. Violent Soho, have you heard of them? They are this band from Australia that is doing this 90ies kind of grungy sound. I don’t know if it was a 2014 or 2013 release, but it was awesome. Archers of Loaf - Icky Mettle for the last question, as well. It’s kind of indie rock.
Anything you would like to add / mention?
Thanks for the interview and I think we will be coming back to Europe this year in October. We will be back this year, for sure. It will be a support tour, but I can’t say for whom. But it will be a good one.