Sunday, March 21, 2010

Billy Rubin - Half Off / Haywire

Billy Rubin with Half Off at Fenders Ballroom, Long Beach CA, Photo courtesy of: Billy Rubin

Orange County pioneer Billy Rubin has contributed some great HC history to DCXX. Somehow, we never got around to actually interviewing him.

The other day, Dan O'Mahony wrote us and said he'd like to interview Billy. Perfect. One OCHC legend picking the brain of another. Get comfortable for this one, it's good stuff. Big thanks to both Billy and Dan. -Gordo DCXX

Half Off at Fenders, photo courtesy of: Billy Rubin

When you and I met in '84 or so you already had a pretty deep knowledge of punk rock even though you were a couple years younger, what got you started on that path?

I’d say that I grew up at the right place in the right time. The kids on my street were experimenting and I was along for the ride. I learned how to ride a skateboard before I learned how to ride a bike. I wanted to shred and needed a sound track. On the intellect side of the equation, I have always been a seeker of knowledge. Punk lyrics were talking about things that provoked me…I had to get to the bottom of it. I remember spending hours in a library trying to figure out what the Byrds/Husker Du were singing about in the song “8 Miles High." If only we had the internet back then.

Later when you became a musician it was obvious you would say whatever was on your mind, but even in your fanzine editor days you covered the bands you wanted and pursued your own agenda and were never a shy guy, you networked like mad before the term even existed. Any insights?

I was really enthusiastic about there being no barriers to entry. Everyone’s opinion counted and anybody could get on stage/publish. I had a lot to talk/write about back then; the fights at shows, the Hitler youth (which was the name of a gang of hooligan rich kids in my neighborhood), straight edge. I remember how cool it was to have a common bond with people all over the country. I could write a letter (send an interview) to Roger from Agnostic Front all the way in NYC and he would actually write me back. This was 1984 for cryin' out loud. There weren’t cell phones or the internet...I used to soap stamps (rub soap on postage stamps so that the post office couldn’t redeem them) so that I could reuse them. It was counter culture. It was cool.

Now counter culture is being an executive at a bank. Having tattoos is normal now. Obviously I have tattoos and am not making commentary on anyone’s lifestyle. What I am trying to say is that the counter culture consisted of thinkers and I found that fascinating.

How did THINK Fanzine come into being and how long did it last?

You might remember how THINK came about better than me. I think that I was inspired by your first issue of S.I.C. Press or Kirk Dominguez's 1st issue of SFTG. It was fun to do. If I am going to be honest about it I have to admit that it was an ego boost too. I only did THINK for a couple years. Once I got into Half Off I felt like it was a conflict of interest to simultaneously be in a band and do a zine.

You grew up in Huntington Harbour, the most affluent part of HB at the time, and a lot of HC kids share similar backgrounds. Why do you think that is?

Very true. In my case it was because I didn’t belong. I only know this because of years of self discovery and the benefit of hindsight. My parents were way out of their league financially and deep down I didn’t feel as good as the other kids. I didn’t have the alligator on my shirt…I had the tiger. I couldn’t be as cool. In the punk scene your coolness was measured by your dedication to your beliefs. I was rebelling.

One of your earliest endeavors was New Beginning Records, started by others in a town 400 miles away and doing bands like Crippled Youth and Underdog, but eventually to become a SoCal operation operated entirely by yourself. Explain the process.

I have sort of addressed this in another DCXX post, but initially I was the errand boy in LA. I think they needed me. As Ray Cappo was phased out of New Beginning, I was phased in. As time went on, I think Bessie and Mike lost interest or maybe I just had more time. In some ways I think I might have hijacked the label away from them too.

I was incredibly enterprising and found a way to get records pressed for free as opposed to paying cash up front. That paved the way for many early west coast labels. Before that it was quite expensive for a teenager to put out records. There were two catalysts for me taking over the label. The Negazione record was one. The color separation for the cover required a lot of communication with various vendors…once again this is back when even long distance calls were expensive. The other catalyst was the Half Off album. Bessie and Mike didn’t think Half Off was ready for an album, but I wouldn’t listen. I did what I wanted. In hindsight, they were right. Half of the album was awfull, but the songs On Your Own, Rain On The Parade, Blood Turns To Water and The Truth would have made a great EP. Instead we put out an unremarkable LP.

Billy and the rest of Haywire leaving for tour, Photo courtesy of: BillyRubin

People like Bessie Oakley formerly of Positive Force (Reno) and Mike Trouchon (New Beginnning) came into your life at roughly the same time as Ray Cappo and our intial connections to the East Coast (whom you introduced me to). What came first, the chicken or the egg?

It all happened in YOT’s tour van while I interviewed them for THINK. Shortly after that Ray and Bessie were at my parent’s house, I was corresponding with Trouchon and before we knew it, you and I were taking trips to Davis and San Francisco. It was an explosive period of time.

If I remember correctly, the Long Beach band Half Off picked you over me to succeed a fella named Tim. What was the proccess and how did you meet those guys?

I interviewed Half Off for THINK and I suspect they felt a loyalty to me for not ignoring them. At the time, OC was cool and Long Beach was not. I didn’t care. I kind of liked that these guys (Half Off) had shitty equipment and no talent as opposed to INSTED who had great equipment, cars and abundant talent yet (besides Kevin and Steve) those guys were not really into the scene. I’m talking about INSTED’s first line up. I don’t mean to piss anyone off, this is just how I remember it. I don’t really know…I loved those guys.

Half Off proceeded along a similar story line to New Beginnings in that it was born elsewhere but came to be thought of first as a Billy Rubin thing. Would you say that makes you a type A personality or would you call it a coincidence? (I go with the former.)

Yeah, I am type A. I am also a loud mouth ego maniac with an inferiority complex. It is a self destructive combination. I will take it over, build it up and then destroy it in a bonfire to keep myself warm. I’ve been plagued by this my entire life.

Your split with what might be called the "youth crew" movement is well documented, probably even online. What's your 2010 perspective on that period? That conflict? Ray? Yourself circa 1987/88?

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, time has shown that I was right. The youth crew movement (as it came to be known) was originally what I fondly called straight edge. Straight edge was a song by Minor Threat that was about drugs and alcohol. That was it. The end.

The youth crew movement was about hooded sweatshirts, sneakers and total intolerance of people that were different. The opposite of punk, and I was always a punk before I was a straight edger. How cool would it have been if the youth crew movement was about rehabilitating drunk kids? Instead, little idiot jocks lied/bragged about knocking beers out of people’s hands. They would even create propaganda showing a guy with a mohawk being beaten up for using drugs.

On the other hand I regret that it consumed so much of my time and effort. My opposition ended up alienating me from the scene that I loved. I gave my enemies control over me. I remember sparring (verbally) with up and comers like Joe Nelson and being totally frustrated. Some of these people were demonizing me, the person that had brought east coast hardcore to Southern California. That sounds egotistical, but I think it is accurate.

1987/1988…Hmm…It would sound condescending to say I outgrew the scene, but I guess that is what happened. My horizons were expanding and the straight edge scene was getting smaller and smaller. I remember when YOT was staying at your house for an eternity…I’d go over to visit you and these sweaty, midget, east coast idiots wouldn’t fucking leave. They seemed so fucking shallow to me.

The Krishna thing seemed liked a personal problem that Ray should have seen a therapist for help with. He was obviously searching (and should have done it in private). I thought it was reckless to preach that shit to young impressionable kids under the same banner as straight edge.

I was really put off by the tough guy image too. At the time, people were putting out records on “Positive Force Records” and then talking about “street justice." How does violence somehow become complimentary to being positive? Who knows…maybe if our next song is about not killing animals it will make us even-steven. To this day I can’t help but be sarcastic about how misguided it was.

Care to explain "No Bald Wall"?

This is funny! There have been a few requests for an explanation…you should answer this. Back in the day, the bouncers at shows would line the front of the stage. They were all bald skinheads. You bought an XXL football jersey and had “No Bald Wall” lettering sewn into the back/shoulders of the jersey so that when you did a stage dive over the bouncers (who’s heads you jumped over) they would read the back of your shirt. It was a protest.

You introduced me to Martin Sprouse from San Diego's Leading Edge zine and MRR, that connection led to some pretty long lasting relationships. How did you two meet?

I wrote about this on DCXX too so I won’t be too repetitive. I also wonder how many people realize how integral Martin was to the hardcore scene or that he was groomed to take over MRR. I met Martin by chance on a family vacation when I was about 15. Like all of the other seemingly chance encounters, this one too led to snail mail correspondence, an interview for THINK and an in at the MRR house.

Martin was like one of the wise elders of the scene and hands down the best graphic artist at the time.

Half Off lasted only a couple years and showed a real change in focus by the Shoot Guns era, not even really addressing scene politics by then. Any thoughts?

Shoot Guns was us not giving a shit anymore. We thought people were totally uptight. We just wanted to have fun.

Haywire pose it up, photo courtesy of: Billy Rubin


Russ said...

Wow! I know almost nothing about Billy Rubin and Half Off...but damn do I like his attitude! I wish more people were like that...Although I love alot of what would pass for Youth Crew, one has to laugh at the whole paradox of "UNITY UNITY UNITY - THINK FOR YOURSELF!!!" Looking forward to reading more...

Anonymous said...

Great read, especially his thoughts re: Youth Crew. Very interesting perspective.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"Yeah, I am type A. I am also a loud mouth ego maniac with an inferiority complex. It is a self destructive combination. I will take it over, build it up and then destroy it in a bonfire to keep myself warm. I’ve been plagued by this my entire life."

BRILLIANT. I so wish that I'd said/written that.

the mosher said...

ya this guys got some fresh perspective.

Anonymous said...

GREAT read

ON YOUR OWN said...

part 2?

Mike War said...

This guy sounds like a superfluous contradictive-devils-advocate moron.

Anonymous said...

"I’d go over to visit you and these sweaty, midget, east coast idiots wouldn’t fucking leave.."


Haywire were waaaay better than YOT.

Ben Edge said...

"Some of these people were demonizing me, the person that had brought east coast hardcore to Southern California. That sounds egotistical, but I think it is accurate."

He brought Minor Threat, Misfits and SSD out here in '82/'83?

The sweaty midget quote is CLASSIC.

justin kelley said...

Good read. I always liked the shoot guns record.

Thing is....the disses towards yot were lame. Yeah, sure some guys wore hoodies and dope sneakers. But it was New York, the land of subway graf, hip-hop, hardcore and I hate to say it but fashion. I wasn't in NY back in the days, but that must've been an awesome time!

The only thing Ray Cappo maybe needs some therapy on is....the fact that he was the best frontman, ever, in all of hardcore. And the fact that no matter what his contributions have been(which are countless), he will never win with most people. Dude did alot of positive things for alot of people and I can't thank him enough for making my otherwise boring, awkward teenage years something to remember. I was proud to be hardcore! Just another fan of some eastcoast sweaty midgets. I want some Ray Cappo shit on here! great post.

Anonymous said...

I think Half Off is a great example of how some west coast bands can seem like a reaction to the east coast - at least in hardcore. Reaction. I'm sure if one is raised in a well-to-do(white)area of sunny California, one finds points to glamorize about their own tough upbringings. It must be human nature or something.

Billy said...

Thank you for all your opinions. I realize that much of what I wrote would be open to interpretation. As for the bringing hardcore to the West Coast comment...At the time very few people in Orange County were familiar with the current flavor of East Coast hardcore. SSD, Minor Threat and the Misfits did predate me by years, but I did release Crippled Youth and Underdog to a scene that had no idea there was a resurgence of this breed of HC. I apologize if you thought I was claiming to have invented hardcore.

Anonymous said...

Two blow hards bumping cocks, what a joke.

Dan and Billy deserve each other.

Anonymous said...

If you are not easy to categorize people dont get it.

Isaac Golub said...

Some of those Half Off shows, hang out's, recording sessions, and practices were some of my greatest memories. It taught me some of my first great lessons on friendship, trust, togetherness, heartache, and just good clean fun.

Great memories.

Love, Ike

Jim Pitts said...

Good Stuff!
Half Off was a great live band, only saw them about 7 or 8 times but they were always a great wall of sound!
Billy was also great for mini reviews of what had just come in at Zed Records that week back when he worked there!
Wow we were all sooooooo young!

Anonymous said...

ALthough Billy is pretty darn heavy handed, and all this shit went down like a century ago, I still really like that fact that he is telling it how it was from his perspective.

Younger HC kids, your heros were FAR from perfect. YOT, while a rad HC band, were just as human as the rest of us, and in some cases pretty idiotic. Then again, so was I. Granted we were all 18. But then again, YOT reunions were pretty bogus. Floorpunch reunions, even more bogus.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the Half Off LP is one of the few HC records you can't find on the internet ... neither the vinyl nor mp3s ... Does anyone know better?


Gold Frog Digital said...

Awesome interview! Billy, you're wrong, the WHOLE album is great. Flawed, but still great.

I loved Halfoff back in the 80's, but I felt like I was the minority in the CT scene.

I was only recently exposed to Haywire. Another great band.

Anonymous said...

Half Off discography download -

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, Jake!


ake said...

Billy helped with our record Grudge Project Ex back in '89. He's one cool ass dude.
Ake aka "Carl of Tomorrow"

Ake said...

Also, Zeds, Fender's Ballroom, OC music scene Mid to late 80's was such an fun eye opening experience for a kid who was still in High School. This is where I learned WE can do whatever we want, in life music, etc. I went to Zed's religiously, just to hang. Billy always had killer insight to new bands from both coasts, never preached to us kids like some of the SE band dudes did. It was about fun, music and pushing people's buttons.
20 Years later I'm playing drums in a San Diego band called Fuck Yeah and running the art dept for Zero Skateboards.
God Bless Zed Records!!