Sunday, February 22, 2009

Records We Love: Gordo on Uniform Choice - Staring Into The Sun

Uniform Choice - Staring Into The Sun

Christmas 1988 my mom asked me what I wanted, I picked 3 albums; Boogie Down Productions - By Any Means Necessary, 7 Seconds - Walk Together Rock Together with the re-done cover art by Pushead (had the original version on cassette) and Uniform Choice - Staring Into The Sun. I already had Uniform Choice's - Screaming For Change LP and the Region Of Ice EP
and although I liked Screaming For Change much more than Region Of Ice, I still sort of liked at least 2 out of the 3 songs. Because I generally liked Region Of Ice, I was optimistic about Staring Into The Sun, hell... I even bought an A Wish To Dream shirt prior.

So anyway, Christmas comes, I get all three records (I picked them out, so there wasn't much of a chance of me not getting them), brought them to my room, took a seat on my bed and listened to each. The B.D.P. record, I loved it beginning to end, 7 Seconds, already knew it well and loved it, but finally had it on vinyl, then came Staring Into The Sun... hmmm... interesting. Sounded like they put a couple of the more hardcore sounding songs on Region Of Ice. Dubar's voice... although it wasn't bad and still sounded great at times, I wasn't all that into some of the rock ballads and his attempt at singing them. Musically some of the tracks were pretty damn good and still heavily hardcore sounding (Cut of a Different Cause, I Am... You Are, etc.), but the drum sound and the production... oh man the production... what a bum out. Aside from some of the music, some of the vocals and the production, the look of this record was also a bum out. The cover looked like it could have been used for a Rush album, the back cover with the rose and barbed wire fence, although not terrible, not particularly great either. I did like the gatefold and the large photo of the band members silhouettes and of course the live photos were pretty cool as well, but all in all, this record was pretty much a let down and got limited play on my stereo. I guess if you compare it to Screaming For Change, it falls very short, but then again, if you compare a lot of records to Screaming For Change, they fall short too. Ultimately in my opinion, following up Screaming For Change was Staring Into The Sun's biggest short coming.

When Gordo told me he wanted to wanted to do this piece on this record I was definltey into it because I know he's got a real knack for breaking down and dissecting records like no other. Although I may not share his opinion on everything, I can definitely respect it and at least be entertained by it. Hopefully you the readers can do the same.

Pat Dubar with Staring Into The Sun era UC at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

Since day one, Tim and I have wanted to get Pat Dubar on here for a definitive UC interview. No question, part of that interview would be discussing the Uniform Choice post-Screaming For Change era that has become lengendary fodder for snickering...the era where bic bald heads were covered with long flowing hair, 4 sided Use Your Head shirts were traded in for denim button downs with tassels, and songs about screaming for change and staying straight and alert were replaced with songs about taking long drinks of silence and vast regions of ice. It's one of the most discussed transformations in the history of straight edge hardcore, the "about face" that has been blasted by so many people. And the epitome of this drastic band growth/transformation punches you right in the face every time you look at and listen to the band's 1988 follow-up LP, Staring Into The Sun. It's no secret that many people despise this record.

But I'm here to defend it to the fullest and explain what I love it, and why you should too.

First, let me clarify that I was born in 1982 and I grew up in I am surely not trying to come off as some Orange County dude who was going off at the very first ever Unity practice, ok? If you feel that my life position automatically invalidates what I'm about to write, then please move along. I'm simply going on my own observations, and all the great HC tales and folklore that has come my way through the years.

John Mastropaolo on bass for UC at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

Second, let me say that I LOVE everything UC did up until Staring Into The Sun. I'm not arguing that the original demo material or Screaming For Change isn't great. No question: UC circa 1984-1986 is some of the best HC ever. I'm also not saying that Staring Into The Sun is a better record (though I have said this in the past to spark a little controversy amongst friends). But I am saying that I love this 1988 record, it makes perfect sense to me, and I probably listen to it more than any of the band's other material. Ultimately, I think my favorite UC recording is one I have never heard: the elusive demo of Staring Into The Sun songs that was recorded after Screaming For Change, but before the actual Staring Into The Sun LP. I have heard this described by Joe Nelson as being "more HC versions" of those second LP songs, and to me it sounds perfect (and if anyone has this, please get in touch, I will pay good money just to hear it). But for now, let's focus on the controversial second record.

For starters, you have the record cover itself. I'd have to say that even though I love this record, the artwork is a total weak point. Considering the great imagery that was always associated with Wishingwell, with great color combinations, design cues, and just that awesome west coast "seasonal" vibe, it seems like the cover of Staring Into The Sun got outsourced to someone completely disconnected who wanted to make it just look like safe commercial rock. I can see the description for the cover that was given to the band when they got it back from the designer, "gentlemen, please find enclosed artwork. Per your request, drawn is a large strange red eye, devoid of any eyelashes above the eye, that is shooting down hot retina juice from the clouds on what appears to be grey, stone like figures that are gathered to discuss varying neck problems. We worked on this piece for a total of 4 minutes and are certain you will be happy with it." Twenty years later, it just looks like the type of LP you blow past in a dollar bin, possibly only looking at the back cover to see if there is in fact a unicorn running away from a castle, as you may expect from the front image. This is unfortunate for a band that visually could have had such a strong impact with this LP. Getting past that, the rest of the artwork isn't that bad. I'm sure people were floored to see the inside of the gatefold and find the long haired, standing-on-rocks-at-sundown photos where a plethora of denim and boots are visible (if the last thing they saw from UC was Screaming For Change). I think it's perfect. In fact, I think that type of thing should have been on the cover.

Uniform Choice - Region Of Ice

On to the music..."Indian Eyes" kicks things off. This song was also released on the Region Of Ice EP, which came out before this LP and was two Staring Into The Sun LP songs as well as the track "I Am...You Are," which is pretty much an older style UC thrasher that really should have appeared on this LP too. As an album opener, Dubar's first line, "I remember never letting pain remain," seems to clearly signify that this is a group of guys that have obviously transitioned to a different time and place from where they were in 1985. Some have said they turned into soft, money hungry long hair rockers with hopes of an audience outside of hardcore by the time this record hit. I can't say exactly what the reality was, but I know enough to say that I'm pretty sure that even with a velvet vest and skin tight Wranglers, Pat Dubar was still capable of beating your ass and probably stealing your girlfriend. Does that even make sense? Umm, anyways, that's the cool thing about this era of UC...they weren't pussies. The songs are what they are, but I still perceive images of dudes who would smash your face in if you stole their wave or threw a bottle at the stage. But yeah, "Indian Eyes" is to UC what "The Night Away" is to 7Seconds, and I think it's a great opener for what is on this record.

Next, "Same Train" rings through your speakers, and I have always heard a real Brian Baker "Wig Out" vibe in this song (not that this is news with UC on this record, in some ways to me it is the west coast counterpart to that second Dag LP). The best part of this song to me is the bridge and then the sing-alongy chrous, it's just classic introspective Dubar that comes out again and again in these songs...the formula here seems to be to take the sing along in "Use Your Head" (you know, the line "Times change, and people change..."), slow it down a notch, and really sing it and "sell" it as much as possible. Whether or not you think that actually works is up to you, but I think that for the style it is a bullet-proof recipe that gets exploited to the fullest in some of these songs.

"Staring Into The Sun" is the third song and the title track. My guess is that this was one of the last tracks written for this record, considering the record was originally gonna be called "A Wish To Dream," and stylistically, this is one of their more "progressive" songs - with acoustic guitars, wind chimes, and dream catchers lurking all over the place. It just seems to have that vibe where maybe Maynez showed up at practice one day and said "dudes, I know we weren't gonna record any more songs, but check this shit out, it's the perfect mix of The Cult, U2, and 7Seconds," and everyone totally dug it. I'm most likely totally off on that, but that's my guess. Around the two minute mark in this song, the whole thing changes into a different type of jam for a second, and it is just more classic later era UC with Dubar's vocals at his best. Definitely one of the absolute "softest" on here.

Uniform Choice - A Wish To Dream sticker and T-Shirt art

"A Wish To Dream" showcases some of Dubar's older style vocal times he actually sounds pissed and like he may still have giant tattered X's on his hands, and the whole number is pretty straight forward without any strong hints of strange footwear, buffalo soldier style trench coats, or any other various later-period UC trickery that people associate with this record. Again, my guess was that this may have been an older UC tune that was held onto for this LP. It works.

Moving on, "She's Locked In" sounds like it was straight up influenced by later-era Scream, mixed The Breakfast Club soundtrack. If I was told that UC was approached by John Hughes to write a tune for Say Anything 2, I would completely believe it. And the funny thing is, this may be my favorite song on here. Just a great "bummed out because of a girl" type of can almost picture Dubar walking on the beach late in the afternoon wearing a black t-shirt, dog tags, and a lot of interesting necklaces and looking at old photos of his ex as he's singing this shit. And the best part is the echo-vocal outro on top of Longrie's ludicrously reverbed just screams 1987 radio pop, I love it.

Pat Longrie on the drums, UC at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

"Region Of Ice" re-appears from the Region Of Ice seven inch, and I'm saying this should have been the album opener. This song rips up and down, start to finish. It's the absolute perfect blend of UC old and new...Dubar sounds 110% into it, just that pissed, earnest, frustrated vocal sound with all of those signature "deep" parts. Maynez gets some much-deserved shine time with a great semi-face melter that just envokes visions of him putting one foot up on the Fender's stage monitors and laying into it as people in the crowd try to grab his guitar in excitement. Girl issues seem to be the catalyst again here too, I don't know what these little ladies did to my man, but he was definitely not happy about it when these tunes got penned. But it made for some great tunes, this being one of the best.

"Cut Of A Different Cause" is a straight up hardcore song that just shreds. I have never known if this was just left over from the Screaming For Change album or what, but I think this is one of best straight ahead HC rippers UC ever wrote. When kids today decide they wanna do a 1987 style melodic OC hardcore style band, they should just reference this song. Easily an album highlight.

"Miles Ahead" is definitely the later UC sound these guys were totally after when this record came out. Tons of melody, strange whispering, Pacific Ocean surfer vibes, Maynez showboating, bandanas and non-ironic berets, classic sung back-ups, and just a dash of some signature Dubar gruffness.

Dubar and
Mastropaolo at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

"What Is Stone" definitely is one of the more HC jams on here, and while it isn't a break-neck thrasher, it proves that even on this record these guys can still tear - especially Longrie, who really doesn't get mentioned enough as a GREAT drummer - dude is super tight, has a really fast right foot (and hands for that matter), and isn't at all afraid to mix it up. Same goes with his beat-counterpart, Dave Mello, who was a hell of a bass player. If this whole album was made up of tunes like this, you would honestly have a much different record. Am I the only one who thinks that this song could have been the soundtrack during the beach volleyball scene in Top Gun had it been written a few years earlier? Ok, maybe that would give it a strange sexual slant that goes along with that scene, but whatever, that's what I hear.

"Long Drink Of Silence" reverts back to that acoustic intro/U2 meets The Cult/blasting down the Pacific Coast Highway in a CJ7 Jeep type of vibe. Again, the song seems to hit on the loss of a female. I'm always picturing that the girl being written about in these tunes was some hot brunette 80s style chick that did modeling for O'Neil and was just OC personified. It's also a fitting album closer, ending on signature Maynez high notes and Longrie bashing.

Region Of Ice back cover

To me it is sad that this record seems to be loved by a few and ignored by many. I honestly think that if the vibe and look of the band was a bit more low-key, it was an official Wishingwell release with more classic styled UC artwork, and maybe just a couple parts in the music were swapped out, this would be a much more respected rockish HC album...dare I say a classic. UC is such an important band in the history of HC and it has always bummed me out that this record is such a black eye, and that UC really gets reduced to being considered a "one record band" because of it.

Then again, I know I am clearly in the minority, and a lot of their (tarnished) legacy has to do with how many in the HC scene felt that UC really just changed way too much for their own good at this time and was on a totally different trip.

Whatever the story was, I have had a soft spot for this record since I first heard it. To me, great music takes you to another place and puts you "in" the song and the story. As absolutely ridiculous as I know this sounds, every time I listen to this while driving at night when the weather is warm and the windows are down, I automatically think it is 1987 and I am wearing Ray Bans and blasting down Beach Boulevard in a black '67 big block Corvette to a really cool and weird party with a ton of hot girls in Huntington Beach, thinking about how I need to grow my hair out longer and do a band that is a mix of The Cult's "Love" and Can I Say. It's just so simple and clear, and damn it seems so cool. And that's why I love this record.
- Gordo DCXX

Longrie getting aggro, Photo: Ken Salerno


Anonymous said...

Well im definitely not a fan of that record, but that was funny as hell!!!!!!!!!

Sean Bonner said...

I actually love these records and have been trying to find MP3 versions for ever. I lost my originals quite a long time ago and no one seems to have digital versions.

Anonymous said...

Gordo, your writing style just kills. For reals. Your analogies have me in stitches. I need to give this album another spin tonight. It seems like you feel the same about this album as I feel about Dag Nasty's "Field Day".

Anonymous said...

i think i heard this album once, and immediately tried to erase it from my memory. it was way to big of a bum out for a 15 year old sXe kid. maybe i should revisit, dubar owes you some royalties after how insanely well written that was.

Retchd said...

Anyone else see the similarities between the A Wish to Dream graphic and the Taste Of Chaos Tour logo?

Fred said...

Did anyone else know UC actually continued into the early 90's as an alt-grunge modern rock ballad band?

Ben Edge said...

You feel the same way about Staring Into The Sun that I feel about Bad Religion's Into The Unknown. I honestly love that record. There's a rumor that whenever Into The Unknown is being sold on ebay, Brett Gurewitz outbids everyone else, just so he can destroy the copy. I'd love to find out the truth to that.

When I first bought Staring Into The Sun, I listened to it in my car with a girl coming back from Santa Cruz, and when it got to the echoey part at the end of "She's Locked In", I was so embarrassed, I skipped to the next track.

ManToe said...

As different as this album is from the first, if the production were better, some of the songs would have really kicked ass. No question.

Anonymous said...

I remember buying that record at SMASH RECORDS in Washington DC, 1988-89. I was 15yrs old and I could not wait, to get home and rock this record.

I have mix feelings about this record. Some songs, I loved. Then some songs, I thought to myself. "mmm ok, I watched Scream, Dag Nasty, GI & Marginal Man, change their sound in DC"

It's natural. But, those cowboys, hahaha man! I could not support =D


still a classic record.

Anonymous said...

sorry, THOSE COWBOY BOOTS! I could not support!

what about the UNITY LP? no comments on that one?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great post on a great album. Just one of the many great albums that require repeated listenings when you're older to fully appreciate 'em.

Anonymous said...

I like the record. It has some good HC songs on it. Especially "A wish to Dream" my favorite. It has some embarrassing songs though too. But if you listen to the first Pennywise record, UC kinda started that whole melodic trend and sound with "Staring into the Sun" that bands like Pennywise and Offspring took and ran with.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jake. As I got older I defiantly appreciated the record a lot more.

Mikemike said...

There are some definite good songs on the record, but we all saw it coming. Meaning people from So Cal. I thought I am... you are is on the record. I only have the tape... Anyway, awesome analogy of the record.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

And to the anonymous person who made reference to the Unity LP (Blood Days), while definitely not as good as Staring Into The Sun (particularly the WAY cheesy sounding versions of the You Are One EP songs), I still think it's a fairly decent album for what it is.

One complaint that I do have with SITS is with the acoustic guitar into to "Long Drink Of Silence". Maynez should've played that part with an electric guitar instead. I've seen a few bootlegs of UC shows where they play that song and it sounds so much better all electric.

Sean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean said...

Excellent piece and my favorite post on Double Cross so far.

I agree with everything Gordo said and I'm a huge fan of this record.

It's one of a handful of records which I call "Paperback-Romance-Novel-Cover Core". Not sure what I mean by that? Can you picture Fabio filling in for Dave Mello on bass at a GIG during this era? He would have been great in the band.

This LP and Unity "Blood Days" are the two main records that fit this bill.

Blood Days makes me think of a potential plot for a Lifetime Television For Women movie: some straight-laced chick is annoyed by her next door neighbor. He's loud, rude and obnoxious but strikingly handsome with a strong jawline. He’s a Huntington Beach/OC Straight Edge Surf Jock Punker. Punk yet clean cut. She hates him until the day that she stumbles onto what the surf jock thinks is a private moment with just him and a piano with no one else to see him acting un-punk.

She sees him playing a beautiful song (the very same piano interlude that is on "Blood Days") and romance blossoms...

Sean O'Donnell

Anonymous said...

Next time you write a review of a record, can you leave out the 2-3 paragraphs of disclaimers that preface it? Same thing every time..."if you dont like this, then pass over this", "Im not saying (this), I'm not saying this, and I'm not saying this, Im saying that."

But other than that, it was cool. I disagree, but still good.


Hah, I would, but I guarentee that if I didn't put in such disclaimers, you would have nitwits on here saying "dUdE i CaN't BelIEve yOu LikE tHis moRE thAN ScReaMing For ChanGE!"

I hate hate hate when my stances get twisted. I'm defensive at heart I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sean, I'd DVR that Lifetime movie and watch it many, many times.

evilbuttmunkeh said...

This album grows on you, I don't know if i'd say it becomes great but it certainly isn't as shocking as when I first heard it.
Over here in Scotland we never got to see UC live but we did get Mindfunk the band they became. Went along as it was the UC guys but it was truly truly horrible.
My now wife was at the gig as well (before we met) and we were talking about it one time, and she was saying she enjoyed them but hated the assholes that kept stagediving and made the band stop playing after a few songs and storm off in a huff never to come back...
bet you can't guess who was one of those assholes then. ha ha!

dangerclose said...

nice post!!

I remember being really bummed when this record came out I really loved Screaming for Change...probably should give this another chance--getting parents to buy records is AWESOME!!!

Anonymous said...

Nate Edge (not anonymous) said...

Ummm, if I am reading this right, he's defending records that some people love and some people hate. It only seems appropriate to put some things up front in disclaimer form like he did. I continue to be baffled by some of the comments people leave that are kind of like weird underhanded compliments or just flat out complaints or shots. It's just weird - are Tim and Gordo criticizing your blog?

Anonymous said...

Hey Double Cross? Can you give us a hint at a possible Dubar Interview? Or has he already declined. I heard they might play Liskfest next year? By the way I read this blog everyday. Keep up the good work.

JD said...

This record just made me want to grow my hair out and wear black t-shirts and dog tag necklaces.

Anonymous said...

I continue to be baffled by some of the comments people leave that are kind of like weird underhanded compliments or just flat out complaints or shots. It's just weird - are Tim and Gordo criticizing your blog?>>>>

"Nate Edge",
Wait...isn't that what a 'comment' section is for? If you're posting something in a public forum (the internet) and attaching a comment section, youre welcoming the criticism along with the compliments. If one doesnt like/want the criticism, one should write in a diary as opposed to the internet. Good blog.

Nate Edge said...

No man I totally understand that, I'm not saying every comment has to be like an ass kiss fest, but some comments lately seem to kinda diss the blog in a snide way or with a snicker. Maybe I'm just too polite or I love the blog too much...but the way I look at it, this thing has been going for about a year now, and the DC dudes have put up TONS of amazing content on the core on almost a daily basis. No matter what they do, no matter how many great interview and entries, there is always that someone that has to pick something apart of offer their critique. I don't know, this blog just seems like it is done by the good guys, I don't understand people kinda having a bitchy attitude towards them. Not saying this is a rampant thing, but I notice it creeping in.

Either way, great stuff!!!

Nate XXX

Lid said...

20 years later and I can still remember that sinking feeling I felt as soon as those vocals kicked in on the first track.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is the "In Time" guitar lick during the break in the title track equally awesome and tacky as fuck?

Derick said...

Hilarious. Your flipping the album over to see if there were unicorns running away from a castle brought back all those days I spent in used records stores sifting through so much crap.

And by crap I mean some of the best album covers EVER.

Guaranteed that if Joe Nelson had found the one with the unicorn, he would have bought it, showing it to us later that night as we listened to it on his deluxe Yorx turntable while we played Bruce Lee on his Commodore 64.

Jasonxxx said...

OMG I forgot about the back photo on ROI!!!!

I remember staring at this for hours thinking WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!!!!!!!!!!!

I Love it and everything UC ever did.

awesome post GORDO!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Mastropaolo, those of you who are going to the No For An Answer reunion show in O.C. next month might be happy to know that the You Laugh EP lineup with Mastropaolo on bass and Casey Jones on drums will be playing the show.

Bill "Nego" Case said...

Gordo was born in 1982? Is that typo or am I just plain OLD! Haha.

Dan Celebrity said...

I remember hanging out with Felix Havoc and the Damage Deposit/Any Last Words guys about 6 or 7 years ago and I dropped the bomb that I love this record. Mouths hanging open throughout the room. It was so awesome.

It's a great record, but I think "Blood Days" is a little bit better.

Glad to see someone mentioned "Field Day" in the comments! Another criminally overlooked record, though not as strong as later UC or Unity.

SFader said...

It would be a definite HUGE goal to get Dubar interviewed. Some of my friends hang out with him and his brothers and recently so did I. He has an EXCELLENT memory and has a lot to say about why UC was pissed at hardcore at that time. He's a serious dude, it would be gnarly.
Gordo, I fucking LOVE your HB references about the chicks, surf, and long hair. So funny dude!!! But the part about the Corvette was more like LA in the '80's hahaha.
BenEdge, the rumor about Into The Unknown is most likely untrue. my buddy Lisk recently got a copy on CD from Brett. But of course, only he really knows.
SFader- Born in HB in '74

Friend Of Killa said...

Full Pat Dubar interview coming soon on I need to re-transcribe some parts and get Pat's final approval and then we'll be posting it up.

Deetz soon.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to read Gordo's take on Dag Nasty's Field Day. How 'bout it, sir?

gloom666 said...

this record sucked then, and it sucks now...

Anonymous said...

ugh. horrible record by the fakest dudes.

T-EDGE said...

First, I have to say that this one of my favourite records ever, an amazing mix of late 80ies rock and hardcore. I love both musical styles, but I like to consider this record as still being a part of "hardcore", I mean it's still a UC record, right?

I love Gordo's analysis on records, he makes the most interesting reviews ever, and I always feel like it describes almost exactly what I think of these records too. The other funny thing is that he often writes about some of my all-time favourite records, and he seem to actually love them as much as I do.

Staring Into The Sun was an instant classic for me, and definitely got more attention from me, even though Screaming For Change is one of the best pure hardcore records ever made.

Andrew said...

This is also one of my favorite records. So good. Thanks for this post.

eating crow said...

just opened a few unlabeled tracks in iTunes and it turns out to be this album that I haven't heard in forever.definitely not the worse thing I've ever heard.

chris said...

Just read this for the first time and I must say it was a great read. Love would be too strong a word for me to use to describe this record, but I definitely like it a lot, and it does have a tendency to grow on you in your old age, haha. And let's face it, hardcore and cheesyness often go hand in hand, it's a right of passage for many hardcore bands, haha.

As for the Unity record, there's nothing cheesy about it, it's great and I do LOVE that album! Also T.S.O.L.'s Beneath The Shadows is a record I love and kinda fits into the same mold as these two.

Anonymous said...

Hey, great post!
I also feel that way that Gordo feels about SITS LP and I`m glad that some people also mentioned Field Day and Beneath The Shadows which are also one of my favorite records! Keep it up with great stuff!!!