Sunday, November 29, 2009

Joey Vela - Breakaway

Breakaway at Gilman St., Berkeley, CA, Photo courtesy of: Joey Vela

Thinking back to late 1987, I remember first hearing the Maximum Rock 'N Roll - Turn It Around comp and taking a particular interest in Rabid Lassie's catchy track, Contragate. By the following year I started seeing Rabid Lassie shirts pop up in a lot photos as well as Rabid Lassie interviews in a few of the fanzines of the day. Next thing I knew I heard about a Rabid Lassie to Breakaway name change and more interviews were staring to pop up. That Northern California / Gilman St. area scene was booming and Breakaway were smack dab in the middle of it all.

By late 1988 early 1989 the word was out that Breakaway had a 7" coming out on Soul Force Records. I remember the ads, I remember sending off my order and also remember when the package from Soul Force reached my mail box. Undoubtedly, the Breakaway 7" had one of those classic late 80's, early Revelation style layouts loaded with great photos and clean graphics. I was nearly sold on them and I had yet to put the needle to the vinyl. Of course once I actually did get a listen, I was not let down and that 7" received regular rotation.

As the years went on I remember hearing nothing but good things about Breakaway's frontman, Joey Vela. He had the reputation as a good guy and as one of the few that stuck it out through the good and bad. Joey stayed straight edge while many of his counterparts left it behind and he also continued playing hardcore well into the 90's with Second Coming long after Breakaway had called it quits. To some, Joey would be considered one of the die-hards, to others, just another guy who was and still is very passionate about hardcore. Here's part one of his story… -Tim DCXX

Rabid Lassie at Gilman St., Berkeley, CA, Photo courtesy of: Joey Vela

How and when did you discover punk / HC and what are your earliest memories of it?

Like a lot of kids, my first real exposure to punk rock was through skateboarding. I was way into skating when I was really young and I started getting Skateboarder Magazine in 1979. They would have interviews and reviews of bands and the pictures of these bands were just incredible. There was so much energy in these pictures, everything was really raw and I just thought they looked really cool. I didn’t know anything about the bands other than the image portrayed in the pictures. A couple years later, I started buying records of the bands I had seen in Skateboarder or picked up records that other skaters had told me about.

I remember when I was first really getting into it, there was a lot of media hype about how punk rock was brainwashing kids with subliminal messages and how it was basically destroying the youth. For a brief second, my parents actually bought into it. When I wasn’t home, they went through my records and when they found the not so “hidden” messages scratched into the matrix, they freaked out. They had the big talk with me about how I had changed since I started listening to this music and they actually took away my records and said that I could get them back if and when I changed. Funny, they took away the records, but not any of the cassettes I recorded of the records and had no way of monitoring what I listened to when they weren’t around. I never stopped listening to any of it and after a couple of weeks, I got my records back. It's funny looking back at that because it’s not like my parents at all. They were really cool with the music and the scene and always had a welcome, open door with touring bands that came through and needed a place to stay just a few years later.

Full shot from back cover of Breakaway 7", Photo: Scott Schaffer

What was the Nor Cal / Bay Area scene like when you were first coming up and who were the big bands of the time?

I remember the first shows I went to and what a huge difference there was. The first show I went to was in Berkeley in 1983 to go see Fang. Back then, I don’t think I owned anything that didn’t have the Fang skull on it. My first show in Berkeley was NOTHING like the first show I went to out in San Francisco. Some of the kids I used to skate with, we talked one of their sisters into driving us to a show at The Mab. I had never been on Broadway before, none of us had. It was like something out of the movies. Flashing lights of all the surrounding strip clubs, adult book stores, police sirens, mobs of people everywhere, and some of the scariest skinheads and punks I had ever seen. Our friend's sister dropped us off a few blocks away from the club and told us she would pick us up after the show. So there we were, five little kids dropped off on Broadway, making our way back to the Mab. I can only imagine how scared we all looked. As we were walking by some of the strip clubs, the ladies working the doors tried to coerce us to go inside to see the peep shows, it was crazy. But it was exciting up there. You’d see some crazy stuff happen before even getting into the shows.

The Mab used to have two shows a night, the curfew show which was all ages and the late show which I think was 18 and over. Curfew shows ended at 10:00 and had the same bands as the late show. Really an ideal situation for us young kids. After that, we started going out there almost every weekend. A lot of the time, we didn’t even know who was playing, we would just take the BART train out to the city, see the show, then head home. We also started going to other venues like Ruthie's Inn, the On Broadway, Club Foot, The Farm. A lot of great old spots.

Back when I first started going to shows, the scene was pretty violent. The SF Skins were a big deal and you would see some crazy shit happen at the shows. You really had to watch yourself. With risk of sounding like a bitter old man, it just seemed more real back then. It wasn’t as easy, but that’s just the times, you know? You couldn’t go to the mall and buy punk records and it definitely wasn’t the cool thing to do. I don’t know, I’m sure everyone feels that way about when they first got into the scene regardless of what year. As far as who were the big local bands when I first started going to shows...Fang, Dead Kennedys, Code of Honor, Crucifix, Social Unrest. There were a lot of really good bands.

At what point did you decide you wanted to do your own band and how did Rabid Lassie come together?

My friends Trent and Ted had already started a band, and wanted to do another one and they asked if I wanted to sing. That was in 1985. I never set out to start a band, it just sort of happened. I’d say that Trent was the catalyst with starting me into singing in bands though. Trent is an amazing photographer and has documented a lot of our scene over the years with his pictures.

Joey with Rabid Lassie, Photo courtesy of: Joey Vela

Any stand out Rabid Lassie shows? If so, with who, where and why?

Oh man, there were so many great shows we played. It seemed like we played a lot of shows with some of our favorite local bands at the time. Clown Alley, Violent Coercion (Neurosis), Christ on Parade, some of my favorite punk bands to come out of Northern California. I used to love all the shows at New Method, that place was more like a community. I remember at one of the shows there, people were hanging out in the front outside, then all of the sudden, everyone came running in yelling for everyone to stay inside and they started to barricade the door. A couple guys wacked out on pcp were outside getting crazy. A lot of us ran upstairs and climbed out onto the roof to watch these guys break shit that should not be broken by any human, it was nuts. That was one of my favorite spots for shows though. Not so much about the bands playing as much as it was about the community - for the most part, everyone knew each other.

Later on, we played some amazing shows with Youth Of Today, Verbal Assault, a lot of the straight edge shows. I think for me though, my favorite shows were with local friends, Tyrranicide and Unit Pride. We always had a good time playing shows with them.

Give us the recording history of Rabid Lassie, demos, comp tracks, etc.

I think we recorded four demos and two tracks for the Maximum Rock 'N Roll - Turn It Around comp. When we recorded for the MRR comp, they asked us to record two songs, but requested one of the two be a song called Contragate. We weren’t even into the song at all by that point and were looking to change our style a bit. The second song we recorded was heavily influenced by our local heroes, Clown Alley. That song was more of the direction we were heading in and that was the song we wanted on the comp. Of course they chose the song they wanted, and the other song was never used on anything or released on any demo.

At what point was the decision made to morph Rabid Lassie into Breakaway and what was the reason for the change?

It was kind of one of those things where we wanted to be taken more seriously and like I said before, we were changing our style a bit. We had a lot of different line up changes and it just seemed like a good time to make the change and kind of get a fresh start. Simply put, we just weren’t the same band we were when we first started. Different style, different views, different people, we just wanted a name that fit the band better.

Rabid Lassie at Gilman St., Berkeley, CA, Photo courtesy of: Joey Vela


ERIC SXE said...

Stoked again! Great to hear from Joey. A cool guy always with great bands. My band (Downshift) hung out with and played many shows with his 90's band Second Coming in addition to going skating. I got into the scene too late to see Rabid Lassie/Breakaway but I certainly did get a hold of their 7"s!

Jim Pitts said...

ALWAYS one of my fave bands! I loved both Rabid Lassie and Breakaway. Joey was an incredible singer. Although earlier Breakaway was a tigher band...when Unit Pride broke up and Tim Monroe and Pete Tisa joined the shows just became a blast!
Slapshot and Breakaway at Gilman....I still have it on VHS! Awesome show from the "Step On It" tour! Tons of footage of me and Korri Sabatini moshin' up front!
...and, in my opinion, Rabid Lassie's best show was still the 1st show I ever promoted. It was the Adolescents 2nd reunion show in '86, at the ON BROADWAY in SF. One of the best shows in SF in the mid 80's in my opinion. Rabid Lassie and Rat Pack (mystic records artists) were awesome! The band I sang for at the time, ANXIETY, had a good set. Gang Green were complete dicks, as their history potrays them! The Ad's were incredible! The Ad's and "GG" almost got in a fight after the gig backstage...crazy!
Rabid Lassie at New Method was always fun!
But Joey is right...this is when the west coast was dangerous.........

Anonymous said...

man, I wanted to keep my Fang records sooo bad, but I just could not keep records with such a dark story of murder attached to them.... How that dude got only like 7 years and then gets the band back together is just beyond distasteful.... and "Destroy the Handicapped" always bothered me, because of me having a brother with a disability.

But Breakaway, Unit Pride, soooo amazing!

Fly on the Wall said...

Great to hear from Joey on Double Cross. He's got so many great stories. I remember catching notice of him in seventh grade, when he had a Black Flag sticker in his locker or on a textbook cover or something. "Who's that weird kid? What's Black Flag, a bug spray?"

I'll second the words of every old guy- Those were amazing times that will never be repeated. It was an honor to be part of it.

The Adolescent show was amazing, Jim. Hard to pick a favorite show, but anytime we played with Christ on Parade or Clown Alley was hall of fame for me.

Fly on the Wall said...

one more thing, the second photo is by Unit Pride drummer Pete Tisa. fourth photo by Jef Barber (who sang for the first band named Unit Pride), and last photo by Murray Bowles.

Anonymous said...

Joey rules. He's got many great stories throughout the years. Tim check in with him more often.

actionxjackson said...

much respect to joey. i've only met him through seeing second coming play. i had no idea he had been around so early in the bay area scene. my main interest and focus has been on the late 90's style hardcore, and the late 80's and early 90's are a blank piece of history for me as far as bay area hardcore is concerned. i would love to hear more stories from joey.

Jim Pitts said...

I agree Trent...Rabid Lassie and Clown Alley at either On Broadway or Gilman was a blast!

jbanks said...

Great to hear from Joey. I could use several Vela installments on consecutive days. I always thoroughly enjoyed my face time with him.

I loved the Sentra with custom Sick Of It All graphics.

To this day I would put Joey's vocal on "This Town Rocks" up against Biff Byford's any day o' the week.


Marc M said...

Dude had some cool shirts. :)

Jose said...

"banned from the scene" :P

Jim Pitts said...

The only time I was ever really scared walking to a show was going from BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to New Method on the Berkeley/Oakland border. But Broadway in SF had danger all around it as well!

Scott T. said...

Good looking out, Jose.

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