Sunday, June 6, 2010

Jonathan Anastas - DYS/SLAPSHOT

Jonathan and Dave with DYS at the Rat, Boston, Photo: Steve Risteen

DYS. The band name alone gets me psyched. It instantly brings to mind a young pre-Dag Dave Smalley growling and grimacing, moshing across the stage of The Rat, and bassist Jonathan Anastas - big, bold Xs on his hands, controlling the Boston crowd - which contained many of their friends and allies from the Boston Crew.

The "Brotherhood" LP is the epitome of unruly SEHC from the early northeast - a record that would directly impact the following generation of SE bands perhaps more than any other record of its era. From YOT to BOLD to Chain Of Strength to even a little band from Seattle who not so subtly called themselves Brotherhood...DYS to me is the enthusiast's choice when it comes to the blueprint for early, angry anthems that take an aggressive, "US VERSUS THEM" attitude in regards to keeping your blood clean, your body lean, and your mind sharp (sorry Rollins).

If you watched the American Hardcore movie, you wanted to hear more from Mr. Anastas himself. I know I did, and I'm really psyched to have him on board here. A long time in the making, this interview is probably gonna end up being on of my favorites on the site. Boston, Straight Edge, DYS, Slapshot...dig in. -Gordo DCXX

Where exactly did you grow up, and what were your first musical passions? Did you have an interest in playing music at a young age?

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston. Both on the North Shore and in Cambridge. I spent a good deal of my childhood and teen years going back and forth between the two.

Each of those places colored my views, giving me a very different life experience and outlook than some of the other notable personalities from that era – like Michael McDonald – who grew up in the city proper.

The North Shore mentality – and collective experience – colored much of the original Boston Crew. Al Barile, Jaime Sciarappa, Jake Phelps, Tony Perez, Andy Strachan were all born and raised in various parts of that area. The same level of “struggle to survive” wasn’t there, especially when compared to the characters we’d later encounter in New York City. Our musical expression – because of that – was far more personal, less political. If the UK bands were singing about life on the dole and the NYC bands were singing about life on the streets, we were delving into Straight Edge and peer pressure. Looking back, it even defined our actual sound. Instead of scraping for pawn shop equipment, it seemed more possible to have an actual Les Paul Custom or a full Marshall stack.

That was very different than my Cambridge experience. During the 70s and 80s, Cambridge was defined by a specific brand of Massachusetts liberalism - highly intellectual, influenced by Harvard and MIT, whose footprints dominated the city, colored by an elite world view, yet lived out in a sort of shabby bohemian lifestyle. Our parents and their friends hid their trust funds, were almost ashamed of their own parent’s hard work to achieve the American dream. They spent their lives in experimental group therapy, pushing their children academically, yet abstaining from even the most basic of parenting as they pursued self-absorbed discovery paths and casual drug use.

Classic Boomer hypocrisy defined how the Woodstock generation raised their children. That place and time are – today – most accurately personified in Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach movies. If we had come home with Dead records and long hair, that level of rebellion would have been embraced, it would have been a shared experience. Instead, we shaved our heads, we lifted weights, we listened to music they couldn’t understand. Deep down, we wanted them to almost be afraid that they had raised fascists. And we wanted them to have to explain that to their friends at the Food Coop.

The first musical passions I can remember as my own – not the memories of my parents' music – were always heavy guitar-based rock. Kiss, AC/DC and, of course, Aerosmith. You couldn’t be from New England and not love them. They were our home grown heroes. And they didn’t sing about peace or love. I’d still put “Mama’ Kin” in my top 25 favorite songs of all time!

I also had an uncle who was a very well regarded jazz musician. He toured all the time, lived a big lifestyle in Las Vegas, even played with Elvis and Diana Ross. Every time he came home it was exciting. He was funny, outgoing, and always brought presents. From the outside, that life looked pretty appealing. It hard a dark side, but I didn’t realize that until later.

By age 13 or 14, music was pretty much all I thought about, all I wanted to do. I convinced my parents to buy me an inexpensive bass and a Peavey bass stack, took them straight down to the basement and tried to find other people my age with the same passion to figure out this whole music thing.

Jonathan and Dave take it City To City with DYS, Photo: Steve Risteen

How did punk end up on your radar? Where did that fit at the time along with rock or metal?

The positive sides of Cambridge – and Boston - came from the same place as their downsides. There was the collection of colleges, the intellectual engagement with the larger world, supported radio stations, record stores and other alternative cultures. So, punk sort of seeped in from the sides. You’d see college students wearing bondage pants and band pins. The MIT radio station started playing punk. The Clash played the Harvard Square Theater, the thrift stores started carrying Boy Of London and Vivienne Westwood.

In the record stores, import and impendent sections were added. One song at a time, one record at a time, my tastes and listening habits began to change.

Beyond the sound, which felt as angry and alienated as I did, the big draw was what it was accessible to actually play. I was struggling to learn how to play the more complex riffs on the rock records. I was confused by the multiple layers of tracks that songs of the time had. I wasn’t that good naturally, nor did I want to sit alone and practice enough to really get it. But The Ramones? I think I figured out how to play “Blitzkrieg Bop” the first day I bought it. I already wanted to be a rock star. Now, I might actually be able to do it. So, as crass as it sounds, it’s not that I no longer wanted to be in Def Leppard, I just figured out there was a style of music that could get me there faster.

That said, there was a real personal voice to punk – and hardcore – that rock and metal didn’t offer. There was an anger and an authenticity that spoke to me. There was a release to playing punk and seeing punk shows that was not there in most of the more mainstream music.

But the part that no one really understood – later – as we gravitated back to rock and metal, is that it wasn’t selling out or finding a new direction. It was simply coming home. Now, with the ability to actually play what we heard in our heads.

How did you view - or come to view - a distinction between punk and 'hardcore'? When did you draw your own lines or begin to gravitate to hardcore specifically?

At first, there was no distinction. It was all too new, the scene was too small, the discovery path too big. In broad strokes, the Clash were hammering the same musical and lyrical beats as early hardcore.

But that changed quickly and deeply.

The divides became many.

The first were simply age and era. Boston’s early punks – in many ways – seemed more like the ages of oour parents than ours. Their values were not even that different – hippies with blue hair. Their scene revolved around bars and bands that sounded arty and experimental. Was an early Talking Heads record any different – really – than the Roxy Music record my parents had at home? In the end, they were all Boomers at heart.

The next divides were politics and approach. Black Flag’s “Damaged,” versus “Sandinista," - it was slam dancing instead of doing the Pogo, renting halls and sound systems and booking your own alcohol free shows versus waiting for the corrupt bar owners to let you play for drink tickets.

The early punks also hated how fast hardcore grew and spread. All of a sudden, the bands made up of 15 year old kids were headlining shows, making records, getting tours of America, not being satisfied playing the same three places every Saturday night as a background for drinking. The hard work paid off and the resentments grew. It was moving.

SSD’s “How Much Art” was the first shot across the bow, and Choke’s performance – and the riot that followed - at the last Mission Of Burma show was the pirates ramming the British navy (literally and figuratively). All of a sudden, the lines were drawn.

As all of this was happening, I straddled both sides at bit. And struggled. I had an internship at Newbury Comics and Modern Method Records, with Aimee Mann and others who built the original scene we were focused on tearing down. Should I go see their bands? When SSD would throw 1,000 fliers on Newbury Street in front of the store, those were “my friends.” If I played “Pressure Drop” by the Clash, was that leaning into the Jimmy Cliff version the Hippies loved? If my co-workers smoked pot on break, how was that rebelling against the prevailing culture where drug use and alcohol were part of the formula?

Classic DYS Brotherhood style, Photo courtesy of: Jonathan Anastas

Where did Straight Edge tie into all of this? Had you always been straight edge even without the using the term, or did hearing the phrase actually change your own behavior? Explain the climate of Straight Edge in Boston at that time in the hardcore scene.

Straight Edge was the last piece I needed to feel whole.

More importantly, Straight Edge was the most life changing, youth culture changing and valuable thing to come from hardcore overall – the genre’s greatest cultural contribution.

I’m proud to have helped further, promote and grow Straight Edge. If one kid stopped using after hearing “Brotherhood,” or decided to never start, it was all worth it. If DYS could give one person resolve, like seeing the Teen Idles 7” cover or hearing SSD helped me find my resolve, great!

Prior to the Edge, I had dabbled a bit, giving in to peer pressure, lacking the voice to say “this isn’t for me, this isn’t what I want to do.” Most of the time I faked it. I filled the cup at the house party with 99% OJ and 1% Vodka and left it at that, or dumped 95% of the beer on the ground in the yard. It never felt right for me. Too close to what I saw around me and I didn’t like the loss of control.

The early Media Workshop shows were the first place I heard that view echoed and the first place I had ever been where those ideas were both supported and amplified.

Now, I had the peer set where it was ok to say “no” to drinking and drugs, a whole group of bands and fans who chose awareness over an altered reality, who chose a new form of rebellion over the form that most teens accepted when it was handed to them. You were no longer a bad-ass because you could drink 12 beers. Now you were a bad ass because you didn't drink at all.

And Boston leaned into Straight Edge with that strong shouldered, contrarian, flinty work ethic that’s part of its history. It felt like the same bloodlines who dumped tea in the harbor, who ran the most highly trained army in the world off our soil, were now at war with the boozy, drug-addled public image of punk specifically, and rock music more broadly.

If Sid Vicious’s last days in the Chelsea hotel defined punk, Al Barile’s creation of a record label, the city’s most defining band, and a whole scene defined what hardcore, Straight Edge and DIY could be.

Again, just like 200 years ago, if DC would start it, Boston would finish it.

DYS at the Rat, Boston, Photo: Steve Risteen

Tell us what came musically for you before DYS? How did this pave the way for DYS, and what really was the catalyst of DYS’ formation? How did you meet the other guys in the band, and what was the fuel for making it a real thing? What were you hoping to do?

Prior to DYS, I had been in a short-lived band called Decadence. We had one track on the “Boston Not LA” record. We had broken up by the time of its release. But the song, “Slam,” kind of went on to have it’s own little pop cultural arc. I was berated by Fred Schneider of the B-52s for the “ your ‘Rock Lobster’ t-shirt” line and MTV used the track to score a long-running promo called “Santa, the man, the myth, the slam dancer” that ran as recently as last year.

Musically, Decadence was a bit of a bridge between punk and hardcore. I wanted to go further. Harder, more focused.

The actual story of the DYS formation has been well told. What might be more interesting is to reinforce is what an important center Al Barile and SSD and the Boston Crew were to the entire movement and my band. Dave Smalley and I had both met through SSD. We were part of the crew that rolled into shows from inside Al’s windowless black van.

The band didn’t really gel and begin to progress until we replaced our original guitar player with Andy Strachan. Andy had been another long-time member of SSD’s road crew, he was another North Shore kid (Marblehead), and it was Al who both suggested to us that he join and suggested to him that an audition might make sense.

So, now you had three like-minded, already connected members, along with an incredibly talented drummer, Dave Collins.

Things were starting to get interesting...


JustPlainOld said...

Brotherhood is an incredible record. I have loved that record since the eighties. I don't think it will ever get old, unlike me.

WOLFPACK said...

great great content. awesome to see this.

Anonymous said...

brotherhood is the best record out of boston ever. i said it. looking forward to more with jon.

ShayKM said...

Certainly one of the most intelligent (non-egotistical) and down-to-earth interviews pulled off on this site. Keep it up DCXX!!!!!

justin kelley said...

If you are from the northeast....dys was in fact bigger than aerosmith to all of us. awesome interview!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable attempt by Jon Anastas' to skew reality. Sure Wolfpack is a cool record and all but to try to paint the Boston Hardcor Scene as a rebellion by kids whose parents had "hidden" trust funds is bullshit. Most of the kids on the scene were middle class and suburban not the children of the intellectual elite.

Ben Edge said...

I showed my dad (who was born in '48) the part about the Boston elite and how the hippie generation raised their kids. His response:

"Brilliant! Now listen to some Joni Mitchell albums and do your friggin' homework... don't bother me, I just got this bong going and your mother is at group therapy."

Anonymous said...

Anastas is the man.

Anonymous said...

This is fantasy. Perhaps Mr Anastas sees himself as a child of the elite but do Tony; Pat,Andy,Ross,Al and Jamie know they come from "hidden trust Funds" and the intellectual elite? Who knew Anastas's daddy was Derschowitz or is he Harold Bloom? He came to School dressed as an Ant Person (a fan of adam ant) and he went to almost every all ages PUNK show there was. Choke proved nothing at the Bradford Ballroom but that he is an ass. He and Slapshot are seen as racist skins by a lot of people outside Boston. Boston got a bad rap because of those attitudes.
He only wanted to be part of something and was part of Hardcore. Hardcore is not what he is trying to make it out to be. He is not Henry Rollins or Al Barille or even Jon Sox. He should go to group therapy and resolve his issues with his mommy and let the rest of us enjoy the subculture of our youth.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10:14am.....I'm just a bystander here, but what are you talking about? I mean, you just called Jon out, but who are you, and what exactly are you saying? I'm genuinely curious.

Anonymous said...

I just re-read the whole piece. I don't think Jon was saying everyone in hardcorewas a trust fund baby, just that was part of the Cambridge experience he saw and that the whole scene and city were influenced by a political and economic dynamic that was true then and is true now. Anyone who thinks punk wasn't - overall in the US, not every person - an educated middle class pursuit doesn't know their history. Rebellion is a luxury.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Anonymous 10:14, you're skew the guy's words. Quoting:

"The North Shore mentality – and collective experience – colored much of the original Boston Crew. Al Barile, Jaime Sciarappa, Jake Phelps, Tony Perez, Andy Strachan were all born and raised in various parts of that area...."

"That was very different than my Cambridge experience. During the 70s and 80s, Cambridge was defined by a specific brand of Massachusetts liberalism - highly intellectual, influenced by Harvard and MIT..."

He ain't calling those other guys Cambridge, he's pointing it out as different and he's talking about the city as a whole at the time, not the hardcore scene.

I don't know what shows he want to our not, but I know what he actually said in the interview.

Russ said...

Yep the douchemasters come out in droves when someone who actually DID something talks about their experiences. Not only are the anonymous cowards just that; crybaby shit talking jealousy cases, but I'm willing to bet that they did nothing but show up and leach off a scene they profess to love. Haters be damned.


I'd really like to see someone from the early Boston scene, not some anonymous fuckstick, come on here and call out Jon Anastas on anything. Look, I don't know the guy, but aside from maybe a little bit of a Kentucky Waterfall and some ambitious thoughts during late 1984 era DYS, I've never seen him do anything worth criticizing on any level.

The guy was an integral part of a scene that was a critical part of early HC. He had a profound impact on Straight Edge Hardcore and what Boston was all about.

He takes the time to do a video interview and answer questions on this site, and he's met with some fake shit talker and people who clearly can't properly read.

There's a reason why a guy like Jon Anastas played an important HC bands, left a mark, and went on to accomplish some major things in his life thus far (google him fuckos)...he has his shit together. And there's a reason why detractors remain anonymous.

You dickless pussies...

Maximum respect to Jon Anastas.

Drew Stone said...

Were you there back in the day??????

Anastas was.


Drew Stone said...

Anastas was the man, maybe a bit high strung, but he had heart. He slammed and dove and supported the scene. He was my banker at Shawmut in Marblehead; he ripped up the flying V bass, in one of the bands I worshipped- hell I ended up buying Andy Strahans GUILD s-100 cuz I loved DYS. DYS SSD FU's Gang Green Jerry's Kids and all the others made Boston special and amazing for me,

Anonymous said...

Much Respect to Jon and DYS. I respect hearing a grow man's opinion on his journey in the Boston HC scene. Everybody has a story to tell. Let alone his band was one of the greats. So it makes him even more interesting..
So, to all ya'll that don't respect your HC history. Dig a hole, climb in and i will be right there to threw the dirt on you.
and big up's to DOUBLE CROSS for this post. You guy's are cool HC nerd's. Thankxxx

Matt said...

I wish someone could explain something to me regarding Bostons hardcore scene...Isnt being a fan of SSD and Gang Green a conflict of Interest? Obviously SSD were straight edge....But Gang Green partied their fuckin asses off....WTF?