Sunday, January 31, 2010

Matt Henderson - Blind Approach / Agnostic Front part II

Blind Approach pose on the roof of a garage, 1988, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

DCXX contributor Nick Gregoire-Racicot brings us part two of his gigantic interview with Matt Henderson. Lots of Blind Approach material here, plenty more to come regarding Agnostic Front and Madball. -Gordo DCXX

Can you shed some light on the history of Blind Approach?

The band started with me and my friend Chip being two of the few punk rockers in our neighborhood in St. Paul, MN, with me playing guitar in my basement while he screamed with no microphone. Probably around 1984, I was 14 years old and we were called D.A.M.M (Drunks Against Mad Mothers). Eventually we met up with some guys from another neighborhood for the infamous “Punks vs. Rockers” battle (the meeting point was on a bridge – we the Punks had about 10 people and were between 12 and 16 years old – the Rockers had about 50 people and were grown men – bikers, etc., with weapons. When we saw these guys crossing the bridge we laughed and ran the fuck out of there. Our day would come later though…) and they had some instruments.

The original bass player we had was this preppy guy who was only doing it because he wanted to be in “a band” and would just get drunk and never tried to learn the songs. We kicked him out and I taught my best friend from grade school, Scott, on a cheap little Sears bass. The only thing he knew how to play was our songs in the beginning but he eventually got pretty good. The point was we didn’t set out to start a band and be serious – we were friends first and did it for the fun of it. We used to play house parties and most of the people there had nothing to do with any hardcore scene. Eventually we hooked up with some people in Minneapolis where there was a more established scene.

Hardcore in MN back then, what was it like?

Before Blind Approach started, the biggest local bands were Husker Du and the Replacements. Later the most popular “newer” style hardcore band before us was Outcry, who had kind of a “7 Seconds” thing going and I dug them. We started by opening for the older bands and at that time were still working out our style. Eventually the scene shifted and New York made a huge impact and we were starting to gain our popularity. We had a strong scene going for a while and had neighboring cities like Mankato, MN, Chicago and Omaha, NB in the mix.

A big deal in our scene was the constant beef between the Minneapolis Baldies, the anti-racist skinhead crew that Blind Approach was aligned with, and the white power crew out of St. Paul, who eventually became Bound For Glory. Because we were from St. Paul we knew all of those knuckleheads but didn’t realize they were actually white power until we started hanging out in Minneapolis and lines had to be drawn. The Minneapolis scene in a lot of ways reminded me of New York where you had a mix of kids from an urban background at shows which was a multi-racial group and a lot were there because they were neighborhood kids hanging out and not actually “hardcore” kids. And with all of that there was the potential for beef, violence, etc., and white power skinheads were definitely not welcomed.

Eventually those guys stopped trying to come around and stayed in their little corner of St. Paul. At our peak, Blind Approach was selling out the 7th St. Entry, the smaller room associated with First Ave., with about 500 people packed into that little room and those shows were amazing. When the bigger national bands came around we would open and play the main room with about 1,100 people in the crowd.

Blind Approach, 1988, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

Any memorable shows (CBGB’s, The Anthrax)?

We played a lot of shows, and eventually we became “the MN band” at one point so if we weren’t headlining a show we were opening for every band that came through. In 1987/88 we played a few times with the Cro-Mags, Youth Of Today, and did a Midwest stretch with Warzone and those are only some I can remember. And we didn’t just play the shows, we all hung out and got to be pretty good friends with everybody in those bands. I remember sitting in a bar in NYC when I first moved there w/ Petey Hines of the Cro-Mags and we were talking about the Blind Approach days. He always said he “felt like he discovered me.”

There are a lot of memorable shows for different reasons. We played a show at this warehouse in Chicago with Warzone and it got raided by a SWAT team and got shut down before anyone even played. The local skins had a hang out called the “Hell House” and so we all headed over to the other side of town. I think it was a squat and I know that we had to break a door down to get in to the place. Warzone setup their gear and played w/ no PA – Raybeez actually played drums for a few songs – while everyone partied.

Chicago had a rough scene back then and there were a lot of fights. The best one I remember was between two girls – one of which had a cast on her arm and was beating the other girl in the head with it. We were counting on the money for that gig for our gas to get home but didn’t get paid because we never played so we were sweating a little bit. Raybeez actually passed a bucket around for people to donate and handed us the cash. Raybeez R.I.P.

Later when I got to know Chris Garver in NYC I learned that he lived in Chicago for a while and was at that same party.

Ultimately Chip was able to reach out to everybody we became friends with and managed to book our first tour in the summer of 1988 and got us all the way out to New York. In those days we didn’t know shit about booking agents or club promotion. We bought a used Ford van, ripped the back benches out and built a bed and a place where gear and bags could go underneath. No hotels, we stayed at people’s houses. We played in a log cabin in Charelston, West Virginia with NOFX. We played Allentown, PA with Warzone and it was FILLED with Nazi skinheads – no beef but it was tense.

We eventually made it to the Anthrax in CT and it was on the same day that AF recorded the live record at CBGBs – nobody was in CT that day for us. The tour ended at CBGB’s to play with Nausea, which had Amy, the mother of Roger’s first daughter Nadia, on vocals. We had a connection there because there was this “crust punk” band Misery from Minneapolis that we played local shows with all of the time and they were tight w/ Nausea. So we were these young kids from St. Paul, MN playing CBGBs on our first tour and Roger was standing pretty much in front of the stage for most of the show. He came up afterwards and introduced himself and we talked for a while. It was cool.

Less than a year later we wound up heading back to the Anthrax to play a benefit for Roger and Amy when Roger got locked up and we got put up at their place in Staten Island. That was a big show w/ Slapshot as the headliners.

Blind Approach released two seven inches. Can you talk about them and the sound you were going for?

The first seven inch was recorded in the 16-track studio at my High School. We got the OK to use it for free after hours. The sound we were going for was the best sound we could get out of a 16 track studio at a high school. At that time we were all over the place w/ influences from AF, Cro-Mags, Metallica, GBH, and some great lesser known bands that would come through our town like Beyond Possession and the Stretch Marks (Canada). In 1986 “punk” was phasing out, hardcore was the shit and cross-over w/ metal was just starting so it was pretty exciting and we were right there with it.

Things moved fast in those days and by the time we did the second 7” the NYHC thing was really starting to kick in, along with the “sneaker skin” style, which was shaved heads and flight jackets but wearing Air Jordan’s instead of Doc’s. Cro-Mags and AF of course, but Warzone’s “Don’t Forget The Struggle..” was HUGE that summer. Boston had Slapshot with “Step On It” and Youth Of Today, even though I wasn’t a huge fan musically, had a huge influence on style, lyrics, etc. (a lot of people thought Blind Approach was straight-edge because Chip wrote straight-edge “like” lyrics, but trust me, we were NOT – not that there is anything wrong with that…). We recorded that and mixed it in one night at this well known indie-rock studio in Minneapolis. It was cool.

Agnostic Front in Argentina, 1992, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

What happened to the band? From what I understand there was a lot of hype around the band and you guys broke up…

Eventually I decided to leave MN for Boston to go to school and that was it. I’m proud of what we did back then but it definitely had its moment and was not meant to go on any further. We were young kids doing it because we loved hardcore and were doing it at a time when the scene was really young and strong. Trying to make it into anything more would have been stupid and taken away from what we had done in my opinion.

Matt and Roger with Agnostic Front, 1991, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson

I always heard that you went to school for music. Can you tell us more about your experience there and how it shaped you as a musician? What did you learn there that you could not learn anywhere else? What could a musician never learn there?

I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. All I knew how to do since being a kid was play music, and I thought that’s what I would do forever. And once I heard that you could go to college for it, I figured that was what I needed to do. I went there for a semester and a half in 1989-90 and then got a call from Roger to join AF, tour Europe and write and record with them. Before that call I was in the mindset of ‘I’ve probably already done everything I can do with hardcore’ but I wasn’t expecting to get that opportunity, so I left school.

When AF originally broke up in ’93 I decided to go back and finish the degree because I didn’t know what else to do and I had already started it. In the end I got a bachelors degree in Music, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. If you want to be a musician, learn your instrument any way you can and network with other musicians. The "music industry” does not give a shit if you have a degree, so college for music is kind of a joke. My goal was to master the guitar and study recording/engineering, but again, if you want to become an engineer I suggest you bypass going to a 4 year college and become an intern at a studio in your area. You will learn much more and it won’t cost as much.

Matt and Stigma with AF, 1990, Photo courtesy of: Matt Henderson


Anonymous said...

Is it true that when A.F. plays shows they turned down Stigma's guitar Down low because he does not remember the songs? true or false?

Onno said...

He's playing himself on recent tours but back in the 90's there were a lot of times he only played on the onstage monitors ;-) Especially the years he played in Madball!

Anonymous said...

OMG Matt's rocking the green-and-black CONS! That was the best-looking pair of kicks I ever had, if I'd'a known I'd'a bought ten pairs.

Anonymous said...

really digging these 2 parts so far. didnt know much about matt but this is awesome

Smitty said...

Very cool interviews. Funny thing is I always thought Blind Approach were from Detroit. I haven't heard those 7"s in probably 20 years. Can't wait for his AF stories.

metal is disco said...

crossover killed hardcore. you can't separate a kid from his mother, and makin' him forget his roots.

Anonymous said...

Stigma's tight...

Tim said...

Matt Henderson's playing & writing are underrated. Madball's albums without him aren't as memorable

MNPunk said...

Linked up at

Anonymous said...

who wrote "across your face"? that song is timeless!

Mark said...

Hi guys, I just wanted to thank you, because you have made me realize how important is hardcore in the recent music history.
Last night I went to the Generic Viagra Music Festival and it was so funny to see how the crowd was asking and demanding some hardcore! Yeahhhh!!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember there being 1,000 rockers coming over the ford bridge. (a sea of black leather) I was very happy to have a trunk to jump into and get out of there. We all fit into two cars. I have not thought of that day in 20+ years. That could have been real ugly.

I wonder if Brendan is still sporting that sweet sweet 1988 ass of his?

Anonymous said...

"Last Warning" is essentially a one-guitar live set which always puzzled me. Stigma played the show, but he can't be heard on the record. Why? That said, Matt's solos on that record and "One Voice" impressed me at the time and still stand out from most guitarists in that milieu.

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