Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gorilla Biscuits poll wrap up

Civ goes for a big dive at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

Not surprisingly, Start Today took the first place position in this poll. That said, I was shocked by how clearly it was in fact the winner here. I went with the seven inch, and was surprised at how few were with me.

Allow me to dissect...

Start Today gets insane amounts of love from almost every sub-sub-sub-subgenre of the hardcore/punk scene. There's a good chance you can bump into a poser who is walking out of Hot Topic and he has at least heard of Start Today. In many ways it is still the record you can play for the funky girl you work with who lives on iTunes, loves "going to gigs," and shops exclusively at Urban Outfitters, but has never actually heard a hardcore band. The inverse of this of course, is that amongst many hardcore purists, it's considered a crap record that defined everything that was going terribly wrong with NYHC circa 1989.

For the record, I love it - but I understand the inclination for some of the criticisms. For one, it's a very digestable and 'pleasant' hardcore record of sorts - the appeal lies in the fact that it is very listener friendly and inclusive in a way that many of the contemporary Rev releases of the time are not. I don't think that was a contrived thing - I think it's just who the band was and how the songs came out. It's not trying to be "hard" - it isn't from "the street" - it doesn't have a "challenging" vibe - it isn't blatantly straight edge - and it seems to have at times some un-hardcore ambitions (i.e. harmonica, which I love by the way).

But somehow, Start Today works. And the whole package, right down to the colorful embossed cover and all the imagery, is catchy as hell.

Further, the production is nice and clear, it has lyrics that are inviting to all, and the music is well crafted melodic hardcore that fuses a bit of a NYC backbone with what I always perceived as California and DC pop sensibility. When I was 14 years old it at times felt like the greatest HC record of that era, and I would spend hours listening on repeat, studying the lyric sheet and photos, convinced that this was perfect and confused as to how it wasn't as popular as any Beatles album. (My enthusiasm would soon settle, but I still think it's a great record).

The GB 7" is a younger GB - raw, chaotic, funny, straight edge, but still kinda pissed and spazzy (as far as SE hardcore goes). The beauty of this record to me is how spontaneous and live it feels, even 22 years after its release. While the horn introduction to "New Direction" on the LP can still give me goosebumps at times, the bass intro of "High Hopes" just makes me want to start stage diving while peeling a banana.

The writing and arrangements of things is much more juvenile, and the fun and energy of it is really just contagious. You feel like you are just hanging on a corner in Astoria with your boys on a summer night without a worry in the world, being young and 'retarded' while this plays on someone's ghetto blaster. Right down to the cover art, to me this record has always said (in a really cool and sincere way): "YO!!! We are straight edge!!! But we can all hang out and mosh and go down to CB's together and everyone can come and then we can have a huge sleep over and drink tons of soda!!!" You listen to that record and instantly you are significantly younger.

GB will always carry a gigantic legacy and to me both are timeless records for their own reasons. But the EP is just a classic in a way so few records are, and that's why it got my vote.


Civ with Gorilla Biscuits at Club Unisound, Photo courtesy of Revelation Records

The man himself, Jordan Cooper, was kind enough to lend his thoughts and memories on GB and each of these records. Thanks Jordan!!!

No surprise that "Start Today" was the winner. The LP was amazing in so many ways that I didn't realize until I actually heard it the second time around and the layout was done. It seems like they always recorded at just the right time to capture the band's best songs as soon as they were ready. On both records, regardless of the age of the songs, they were done with the energy of new songs and the confidence of old ones. It's hard for me to name a favorite between the two.

To start with, the EP was really incredible. It was done right after the band really got a hold on its sound and personality; Walter's writing got more focused without losing the band's sense of humor, Civ found his signature vocal style and both Arthur and Luke were solid players. The label was brand new when the 7" came out so everything was a group effort and every step involved learning something. The 7" was the first time the Rev logo was used on a record. Billy's amazing artwork was on the cover. Alex was friends with them before joining the band and did the layout.

The LP was another turning point for the band and Walter. His songwriting got even better, the band was even more solid and the recording came out perfectly. I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events, but once they quit Chung King and went to Don Fury, everything went more smoothly. After the music tracks were finished, Walter went on tour to Europe with Youth Of Today while the vocals were getting done. As I remember it, everyone loved the record, but Walter wanted Civ to re-do the vocals. I'm not sure if the "Walter Sings" vocals were done before or after Civ's first tracks or after, but basically Walter had really specific ideas about how each line should be delivered. I went to the studio one of the days they were working on it and I couldn't believe how much work they were putting into every song. The amount of patience Civ, Walter and Don had was incredible and the effort that went in is the reason that record is so great.

Though I gave them a bunch of suggestions for artwork and packaging, Walter had his own vision for the package and worked with Dave Bett directly on the layout and I'm sure just as much effort went into that as every other part of the record. The one thing I suggested that they did do was the embossing on the covers. "Start Today" was a big step forward for the label too. This was the first full-length that I handled the production for on my own without the help of a distributor. It was also the first time we had enough money to pay for an album's recording and the first time we released a new record on CD at the same time the vinyl was done. - Jordan Cooper

Gorilla Biscuits - "Start Today" - 302
Gorilla Biscuits - 7" - 123


Ben Edge said...

Does anybody know if LP tracks with the original Civ vocals is floating around?

Anonymous said...

What was the name of the little caveman character holding the trumpet?

Anonymous said...

Luke was more than a "solid player," he was a freaking genius-- he didn't just go fast, he filled the empty spaces in the music with shifting textures and dynamics, holding back, building, surging and releasing, contributing subtle shifts and accents which add amazing depth to already amazing music. I'm telling you, seventeen-year olds had NO BUSINESS making music that good. No business. I fractured my shoulder stage diving at the B.B. King's show, and if I had it to do over again I wouldn't change a god damned thing.

ML said...

I think the 7 inch is kind of cheesy sounding. Start Today is so much better.

Anonymous said...

luke was and is a great drummer and there's no flaws on his LP playing...but that above description is just a tad over the top

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks Start Today is "safe-core to play co-workers and chicks" is living in a fantasy world (pre-1990) that no longer exists.

Despite everyone thinking that punk/hardcore/emo is mainstream the accepted versions of these styles don't sound a thing like Crass, GB, or Rites of Spring.

Find a girl in her 20s that shops at Urban Outfitters and listens to Phoenix and play her Start Today, she's not going to be like "oohhhh I liked Green Day in high school this is cool", she'll immediately notice the yelling, fast beats and off key shrieks and go..."Do you like Animal Collective?".

Start Today as a gateway to pussy might have worked at the time on girls who liked Echo and the Bunnymen and the Clash but that was a different world. No one was playing Start Today to some cheerleader they lured to their suburban room and if you did you didn't deserve to get laid because you're a fucking moron.

GB was able to do what so many other bands attempted to do and did it with much more success. No one comes down on Token Entry or pre-long hair 7 Seconds yet what they did was much more "pop" based than GB.

The whole "AOQ for girls thing is revisionist history from a handful of bitter people who disliked GB personally or based on who they thought they were. Over the years this myth has been perpetuated and overblown, if this was the case why were GB shows post-Start Today packed (with less than a handful of women in sight)even when they were on their down swing?

An undeniable classic and landmark album.


I'm not sure if the above post re: the classicness of Start Today was in response to my little write-up...but I just want to clarify my own position in the event this turns into a 38 comment thread:

-I love Start Today

-I think Start Today is a record you can in fact play for "that girl"...however, I'm not saying she's gonna start moshing or give you a blowJ. It's just a record that may be at least slightly appreciated by said "girl", whereas playing her Victim In Pain is just going to result in a cringing look of disgust and confusion.

-I agree that the HC purist opinion on Start Today has become very harsh even in the last 10 years...the internet and revisionist history definitely hasn't helped. The current reputation of Start Today has caught some of the shrapnel of this, like it or not.

My bottom line: two great records from one of the best hardcore bands.

Thanks for reading!

-Gordo DCXX

Anonymous said...

Still the one band I can go back to and love. At 38, I still dig it as much as when I first heard it 16.

As classic as it gets.

Anonymous said...

I would like to initiate the Start Today challenge, let's post Degradation on 10 random girl's Facebook profiles and ask what they think.

If you think that 6 of 10 will say it's Kewl you're not living in reality.

Not coming down on your post specifically I'm just saying this myth that Start Today is some album that turned HC soft and for girls is not only ridiculous but it's fucking sad that anyone would care that something made HC more female friendly...though it's not surprising.

Anonymous said...

You're right, that first post was a little over the top; sorry, but it was late and I was feeling sentimental. It's just that GB means so much to me, man... after all the tribulations and disappointments of adulthood, it's... how shall I put this... sometimes it seems like (with apologies) the last thing that still holds true. How about this: LUKE PLAY DRUMS GOOD. Better?

HoldYourGround said...

i could be reading this wrong and i don't wanna speak for the dude, but i dont think gordo is trying to say girls would find start today "kewl" or that it is female friendly.....start today is just a bit more friendly in general and nice than something like victim in pain.

(i see this whole section of comments going the route of insanity and hyperbole by the end of the day)

Anonymous said...

Personally I have a problem with 'Start Today' exactly for some of the reasons that Jordan mentions in this write up. What kind of hardcore band has one guy that writes every single part of the music, including THE LYRICS to every song!? And then instructs the vocalist on exactly how to sing them. As a teenager i definitely enjoyed this record but after eventually coming across these details i started to look at GB as more of Walter's project, and definitely look at CIV as his puppet.

Anonymous said...

i don't know if what jordan was talking about was as much walter dictating what had to happen as much as it was a guy having a clear vision that he was able to communicate to the rest of the band and bring those around him to their full potential.

have you ever heard the civ vocal tracks before walter had more input? not so hot.

regardless of anyone's opinion on start today, that record is a band on their A game and those are the songs at their full potential. impossible to ignore walter's role in that - dude had a vision for the whole shabang.

i think walter has been the leader of any band he's done since gb. the guy is super talented, and if he is a band dictator, i haven't really heard any of his former bandmates ever complain.

Anonymous said...

A HC band where on person dictated?
Dag Nasty?
One could also argue late Flag.

But I get your point.. I think though it was like Walter had a bunch of ideas and just found people to execute them. With most bands (ie more members than a duo) there is usually a "leader" or main motivator. Sometimes that person is even a tyrant.

Anonymous said...

"What have you done for me lately?"- Janet Jackson


Shanetera said...

I voted for the 7", but I have to say "Cats and Dogs" made me think more about what a band was saying more than any straight edge song ever could.

Justin M. said...

I first heard this album when I was 13 and I'm 31 now. The older I get the more I appreciate Start Today. I can't say about many other HxCx bands.

Justin Suburban said...

Check me out in both those GB pics. the Unisound one on top of the crowd and the city gardens one with really bad hair. haha

ERIC SXE said...

I voted for the 7". I like the production better and the bass is higher in the mix!

That being said, Start Today is great and was one of the first two sXe tapes I bought when I first got into this scene! (The other being Insted - Bonds of Friendship)

Anonymous said...

I can still remember Luke and I going over Tony's total metal drumming style when I got my hands on the rough draft of Leeway's Born To Expire from AJ. We were in my car on the BQE and we were both loving the music but we both were saying how we liked the way the original drum parts (by Saso & Mackie) were played more than the Slayer-style double bass that filled the record.

Anyway, I'm already on record as saying GB were not only one of the best, most fun bands on the scene but they were great guys to boot. Too much GB homage is never enough!

-Joe Outburst

Dreq said...

Did the artist of the 7" do any other covers or any artwork?

JD said...

Ben, The lp tracks exist with the 1st vocal take.

Anonymous said...

dreq- billy bitter (side by side) aka brian clark did that cover artwork...and i think double cross did something with him but you'd have to check the archives, it was a while ago