Monday, January 18, 2010

Howie Abrams - In Effect Records part II

NYHC veteran Howie Abrams digs into the history of In-Effect and the evolution of the NYHC scene... -Gordo DCXX

What was your involvement with Hardcore pre-In Effect? What was going on in the hardcore scene that inspired you to want to get involved as more than just a fan? How did you view the hardcore scene as it pushed to the late 80s?

Before the label, I was simply a fan and supporter of the NYHC scene and its bands. Really - there were relatively few of "us," so if you came down to CB's every week and danced and went to the bigger shows when the NY bands played, you were doing a lot. One of the best things you could do was travel to see the bands out of town. It's what gave the scene it's presence and reputation.

Around late '84/early '85, a friend of mine, John Rooney, and I started a fanzine called Occasional Irregularity. We did show reviews, album reviews, interviews etc. We'd sell them at the matinees and other shows as kids waited to go inside. I remember peddling our first issue outside The Ritz before some show and Parris from the Cro-Mags came up and thanked us for reviewing the Age Of Quarrel cassette. It was rare that these bands were recognized in any way outside of playing their shows - even in a fanzine, so our efforts were appreciated and that was gratifying. That's how I actually met so many people from the scene.

Almost everybody was in a band or aspired to be in a band, so everyone had an opinion and was curious about yours, which through the 'zine I was obviously putting out there. I met Roger and Vinnie, all of the Alleyway Crew guys, Danny Lilker and John Connelly, Jimmy Gestapo and Chuck Valle, John Joseph, Harley and Parris, AJ and Jose (original bass player) from Leeway...

Doing Occasional Irregularity is what probably made me feel most like a "somebody" in the scene. Little did I know at the time how much I was doing to support what was going on. To me, I was just some kid with a big mouth.

As the NY scene was reaching the late 80's, a lot had changed. The HC/Metal crossover scene was in full swing and a number of the bands also began introducing other styles of "alternative" music into Hardcore. These developments were simultaneously the best and worst things that could have happened. It was great because these new influences helped the music to progress and remain interesting, but as more and more kids from outside the immediate scene came around, everything moved farther and farther away from what made NYHC what it truly was at its core.

Moshing became more important than the bands and the community and the apathy set in. A lot of people feel that the straight-edge resurgence led by Youth Of Today around '87 kept NYHC intact and to some degree it did, but many of those kids were really elitist and created this whole new clique that I had a hard time relating to. I felt preached to and was like "fuck that!" Some good bands came out of it, but things were definitely different.

Roger with AF at CBGB, photo from the Live at CBGB album

Tell us about how In-Effect came together and what you wanted to do with it.

In 1987 I got my first "real job" in the music business at a record distributor called Important in Hollis, Queens as a salesman. It was 10 minutes from my house, so not only was I selling records to record stores, but I got to sleep until maybe 20 minutes before I had to be at work!

Important distributed a lot of cool labels like Revelation, SST, Touch and Go... It also had a few of its own labels, including Combat and Relativity. Combat was one of the biggest indie metal labels there was and Relativity was the home of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. At the time, Combat had some great hardcore bands on the label such as AF and Ludichrist, but they were getting shit on compared to the metal bands on the same label. For instance, Agnostic Front was touring the U.S. in a van and drawing a lot of people to their shows, while many of the metal bands were receiving all kinds of tour support and were bombing on the road. It made no real sense, but metal was big and that's where the company put their money. Eventually, it became painfully apparent that much of the music business makes no fucking sense.

My Hardcore "us vs. them" instinct began to kick in and I became vocal about what I saw as a gross injustice (I'm so dramatic). I started talking with the head buyer for Important, Alan Becker, and he felt a lot of what I felt. I guess something like this was on his mind too. Why should we really invest in these bands (on other labels) whose records we were distributing, when their labels weren't even investing in them? They had no signed agreements with these labels, so why don't we start a label and sign some of these bands directly? Also, there were under-served bands already in the building that deserved better. Why don't we move these bands over to this new label and put them in the hands of people who give a shit??? The seeds of In-Effect Records were planted.

All I really wanted to do was put out records by these bands and work my ass for them because I thought they deserved it. Hardcore deserved it. I never considered it, or anything I did to be particularly special. I simply wanted these bands that represented something which meant a lot to me to have a fighting chance to be heard.

Run us through the first few In-Effect releases. Why were these chosen, what were you hoping to do, what was your relationship with each band, what are your memories of the creation and completion of each record, and what do they mean to you now?

The first In-Effect release date was pretty fucking amazing looking back at it now. On the same day, we released: Agnostic Front Live at CBGB, Bad Brains Attitude: The ROIR Sessions and Prong Force Fed. One important reason In-Effect was created in the first place was to provide a new and improved label home for Agnostic Front. The idea of a live album recorded at CB's was already being discussed, so everyone agreed that we should launch the label with that album. Also, working so closely with our distribution (down the hall), we came to the conclusion that we needed to kick everything off with more than one release on the first day in order to make a bigger impact, so we began looking into what else we could do.

Important was already distributing ROIR, which was truly a cassette-only label at the time, so the classic Bad Brains cassette had never been released on CD. In fact at that point (late '88), not a lot of HARDCORE had been released on CD, so seeing as it was such a legendary recording, we pushed really hard to get ROIR to license it to us so that we could put it out on CD. Thankfully, they agreed and it became part of our first day release schedule. We created a great new package, featuring photographs taken of the band at CBGB back in 1981...the year the recording was made. It was and still is such an honor to have been involved with this one for obvious reasons.

At that time, Important, true to the first 6 letters of its name, was one of the only indie distributors bringing in numerous titles from the UK and elsewhere to distribute in the United States. One of the labels they were working with was Southern Studios in England, who were about to release the second Prong album. As with a lot of truly cutting-edge bands, Prong meant very little in their hometown NYC, but were beginning to make a lot of noise overseas. I liked their first album a lot and to me, Force Fed just blew the debut away. It's a great album. They really weren't so much a metal band then. They had a lot more in common with bands like the Swans or Killing Joke, but with a more metallic bent to their sound. We decided that we really wanted to put it out and we also attempted to sign the band long-term, but lost them to Epic Records in the end. I suppose our instincts were right on, because they wound up becoming pretty big and influenced a lot of other bands.

The AF live album is really the only one of the three initial releases that I was "directly" involved with in terms of recording. My working relationship with the band was still kind of new, but it was good and I dealt mainly with Roger. We knew capturing this band live, as well as the atmosphere of a matinee was crucial, but we also knew that it was going to be a huge challenge given the chaos that ensued at their shows. The one thing we were surprisingly able to do was keep the amount of people on stage to a minimum so that the band could actually play without getting knocked out of tune every two seconds and have the mics constantly bulldozed by stagedivers. As the show progressed, it became tougher and tougher, but for the most part, the recording came off without too many problems and I think the album stands as one of the best live punk...hardcore...whatever recordings to date. Next to Victim in Pain, it seems to be most AF fan's favorite album of theirs. I know it's mine!

Jimmy Gestapo, Freddy Madball, Howie Abrams and Joseph Cammarata, Photo courtesy of: Howie Abrams


Russ said...

Looking back at my 15 year old self, Agnostic Front's "live at cbgb's" record blew my head clean off! Next to COC's animosity, and DRI's dealing with it it was definitely in my top five records! I still love that record!!! Thanks for the memories Howie! Fucking Awesome!

Rinjo Njori! said...

This probably takes second or thrid to Black Flag's Live 84 or Animosity. Prong was definitely fresh back then.