Monday, July 19, 2010

Jonathan Anastas - DYS part II

The official Modern Method and Taang! promo/press shot for the release of "DYS" (album #2), Photo: Elisa Katz

Returning for part II of our interview with him, Jonathan Anastas delivers the answers to our questions about early Boston and DYS. Plenty more to come, just in time for the return of DYS in Boston on August 29. -Gordo DCXX

Everyone views SSD as the DYS big brother band. What was the relationship like? Did SSD pave the way for DYS in any way, or do you feel like you both did it together?

Early on, Andy, Dave Smalley and I spent a lot of time with SSD and the rest of the core Boston Crew. We roadied all the major SSD shows and came along on many of the road trips to see Black Flag or the Bad Brains. Mixed it up in New York, hung out in DC.

I felt like the three of us were going to “SSD University” in terms of how to handle yourself on the road, at a show. Professionalism, precision, on time, right equipment, full crew. Sound check, stay close, watch each other’s backs, no partying.

And we were not the only band to do so. The Lasts Rights dynamic was pretty much the same. Choke, Pat and Ritchie were along for the same lessons.

To this day, I don’t think any band was heavier and more influential than SSD during the “Get it Away” era.

On top of the shows, SSD taught us how to “manage the business” - merchandise, recording, finding pressing plants, distributors, promote shows, rent halls.

We tried to bring all of that to DYS. Over time, we became more focused, the songs heavier. Dave’s more DC vibe giving way to a harder look and sound.

Again, from SSD and Black Flag, we copped a pretty serious work ethic. This wasn’t going to be the Sex Pistols where Sid just flailed away, pretending to play bass. We practiced at least 3 times a week as a band. If we started off as a bit of a joke, we were determined not to end up one.

Personally, I also really thought Jaime Sciarappa brought it and I learned a ton from him too: chops, stage presence, taste. And he was about the best, straight-up, guy on the planet. You could count on Jaime for anything. A funny aside, after seeing Motley Crue together, Jaime and I both custom ordered Hamer Blitz basses, just like Nikki’s, even as far as the Kahler tremolos, his Hamer in black, mine in pearl white.

Later, by the time of “Break It Up” and “DYS,” I feel like the dynamic changed from sitting at the feet of SSD, to being more like equals. There were things they were better at and things we were better at. A sound they moved toward (more AC/DC and Aerosmith-inspired boogie-based rock) and a sound we moved toward (really influenced by the early Metallica and Iron Maiden records). By our last show together at the original Rock Hotel (Now the Jane Ballroom), I felt like we were just two really solid rock bands whose personal and musical chemistry gelled well. And there was nothing like pooling equipment and playing out of like six Marshall stacks.

Jonathan Anastas and Dave Smalley with DYS at The Rat, Photo: Steve Risteen

How did you view SSD as a fan? Kids or Get It Away?

Then, and now, hardcore to me is about Black Flag, the Bad Brains and SSD. It takes more guts to blaze the trail than follow it. And all three bands were willing to be contrarian and true to their own beliefs in the face of both mainstream society and the hardcore scene. It takes guts to play “Police Beat” with 10 Boston cops at your show (or play a Reggae set to hardcore fans). And it takes guts to play “Break It Up” to an audience that wants to hear “Glue.”

Kids serves as an amazing totem of time and place, but Get It Away – to me - holds up better to regular listening today.
What about XClaim! as a family? Did it feel that way?

The Boston Crew was a family. X-Claim! was a logo.

XClaim! was – by design – a brand, a trademark of quality, like a hardcore Good Housekeeping seal. It never felt like a family as it wasn’t supposed to. There was no “XClaim! House” like the Dischord House. Al and Chris Foley didn’t “work at the label” like Ian and Jeff. If you wanted to put out an XClaim! Record you simply asked Al. And, maybe, he’d give you some vendor phone numbers for covers or pressing. But, aside from getting the logo, and permission to use it, you did it yourself. And I mean that in the best way.

The goal of XClaim! was to become a “reason to buy”- not unlike the way one might have bought any Blue Note album or (using today’s examples) see any Pixar movie. We bought anything with the Dischord logo on it, or the SST logo on it. Al wanted X-Claim! To be Boston’s version of that.

DYS on the cover of xXx Fanzine issue 9

Recording “Brotherhood":

“Brotherhood” was recorded at the legendary Radio Beat studio, with Lou Giordano engineering and mixing. Production done by Lou, assisted by Mike Bastarache, a local lawyer (if I’m remembering right), record collector and friend of the Newbury Comics founders who loved punk and hardcore. This was the team that had done “Kids Will Have Their Say.” It’s fairly common knowledge that Lou went on to an amazing career producing and doing sound with bands like Husker Du.

In fact, Lou was scheduled to record with the guys in Husker Du after one of our vocal sessions and – as they were already in the studio – were recruited to sing originally un-credited back-up vocals on “Wolfpack” and other tracks. I remember the band peppering us with Boston questions like “Is it true that people will pin us down and shave our heads” (they had long hair) and “Do people really walk around at shows slapping beers out of people’s hands” (they were – certainly – not Straight Edge).” Even pre-Internet, Boston’s reputation as a militant Straight Edge town had made it across America.

Stealing liberally from one of Brian Baker’s moments in “American Hardcore,” the production during the “Brotherhood” sessions was minimal and pre-production totally absent. The focus was really on getting through the performances and takes without error. We recorded the basic tracks live as a four piece band. There was no talk of “can you hang back behind the beat and find the pocket on the verse” or “what if we tried the chorus 10 Beats Per Minute slower” or “should we double the chorus and play the second in double time.” We just didn’t have the vocabulary yet or – even – the sense of songwriting. It’s been really interesting to play those songs again, ask those questions and experiment with the results.

We had minimal recording experience, no budget and no real vision beyond getting the songs onto tape. I remember we had a really hard time getting Andy’s guitar sound the way we wanted it. We couldn’t get the tone we heard in our heads – or even in the room - on tape and just had to compensate for that by just making them louder in the mix. This may have contributed to the other issue we had later - the level of Dave’s vocals post-Mastering. Something shifted between final mixes and the test pressing and we lost some vocal volume and presence. Almost to the point of wanting to go back and re-master. We had no money left, so it was “get it out now” or – maybe – not get it out for a long time. A shame of budget and in-experience. Dave should be a bigger sonic presence on the record. As far a we know, the Masters are long gone and we’ll never have the chance to do that.



wolfpack said...

epic content! keep it coming!!!!

Charlie said...

Great entry...shows how crazy Boston people were by thinking that they were anything above TOTALLY HORRIBLE at playing rock and roll. Early Metallica? Iron Maiden? These guys sounded nothing like those bands....they sounded like shite.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to both album's songs in August!

Anonymous said...

dcxx continues to raise the bar. great stuff here, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

dig it!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Anastas looks very close to a mullet in that top pic. So very close bro.

"one sided war.....NO MORE!!"

DYS was an inspiration.

Thanks guys.

SPM said...

I LOVED the second LP and still do.

'Late Night' and 'Echoes' are great tunes.

God forbid the fellas learned to play and branch out.

Great hard rock.