Vatican Commandos were a key band in the 80's Connecticut Hardcore scene, and are reuniting to play the Everybody's Scene Book Party show in NYC on July 17th. Also worth mentioning is the fact that one of the fellas from the VC was a guy you may have heard of: Moby. We got to pick the brains of Jim Spad (bass) and Chuck Wheat (vocals) about some CTHC history. -Gordo DCXX
How did you guys meet each other in the CT scene, and how did VC come together?
Jim: We all went to the same high-school. Moby and I went to the same elementary school and lived pretty close together, so we met first. Our original drummer Chip Moody was also in neighborhood. He named the band and help write a lot of early lyrics. We met Chuck later in High School and after that Chuck and I hooked up with Mike Pollock on guitar and Dave Hower on drums. In the real early days, with Moby, before Hit Squad for God I was the singer and we used to do Sex Pistols and Clash covers.
Chuck: We all went to the same Darien High School. Moby and I went to the same grade school and Junior High school. Jim, Moby, John Farnsworth, and Chip Moody started a band during High School. I remember them playing at the battle of the bands against a bunch of crummy cover bands...they were great. Jim did most of the singing at first. I was friend with them and when they decided they wanted to add a singer I tried out and the rest is history. John Farnsworth and Lindsey were in the band when I joined and as I recall Moby was not...then Lindsey and John were out...and Moby was back.
This is when we recorded the Hit Squad stuff...then Moby was out...and we found Mike Pollock to replace Moby. Chip around that time left to play with CIA and then 76%, and we found Dave Hower to play drums. This was probably the longest and most stable lineup. For a while Bill Knapp took over on drums (ask him but I think he has played for most CT bands at some point in their history), but eventually things like school and work made keeping it all going too difficult. As far as the scene The VC's pretty much grew up with the CT hardcore scene.
Vatican Commandos at the Stamford Anthrax, Photo: Jamie Keever
What local punk bands were you aware of when you started playing? Was VC meant to fit into any specific punk scene? How would you describe the VC ethos and sound?
Jim: There were no local bands at first, it was just us. We were really too young to get out of town when we first started playing. I remember buying Never Mind The Bollocks in an import bin at the local phonograph shop in Darien. Moby and I were probably 12 or 13 at the time. That record really did it for us. As we got a bit older, we ventured out and discovered other local bands, CIA, Lost Generation, Reflect From Pain - there was a whole scene out there.
I don't know how to describe our sound. We were influenced by lots of different bands and each recording session has a different sound. When we released Hit Squad For God we had just heard This iI Boston Not LA and Flex Your Head, but most of the songs on the record itself pre-date the release. We listened to a lot of different bands, I really liked LA bands like Bad Religion, Adolescents, Circle Jerks, but we were hungry for new music anywhere we could find it. We were pretty diverse in our tastes.
Chuck: Local bands that we knew and hung out with included CIA, Reflex From Pain, Seizure, Contraband, No Milk On Tuesday, Youth Of Today...to name a few.
How did you meet Brian and Shaun Sheridan and come to know about the Anthrax?
Jim: I think Brian saw us at Pogo's in Bridgeport and said, "Hey we have this art gallery with a basement, would you like to play?" We were one of the first hardcore bands to play there. I remember we were blown away that such a place existed just one town over from us. Brian and Shaun were totally cool. I can't imagine what those years would have been like without the Anthrax.
Chuck: I can't remember who first told me about the Anthrax, but as a group the band was pretty much involved from the begining. We even practiced there for a while during the week. Brian and Shaun were great! They would both pretty much give you the shirt of their backs if needed.
Moby hangs out in front of the Stamford Anthrax, Photo: Paul Yates
Can you give a run down of your releases and recordings?
Jim: Our Facebook page has a pretty complete list.
Unfortunately, we have had more recording session that went unreleased then released. We are going to do a bit of recording the day before the show. That material will probably be added to our unreleased collection. Ha!
What live shows did you play that stand out now?
Jim: We played in Orlando, Florida with Battalion of Saints back in 1984. The show was supposed to be in a bar, but it go cancelled so we played in an abandoned house with a generator outside. I remember it was hot as hell in this house, pouring rain outside, and totally packed inside. Everyone was slam dancing and there wasn't enough room, so some enterprising folks tore a wall down during our set! After the show, rednecks in pick ups drove by and beer bottles were thrown in both directions. It was totally hardcore. Lots of other interesting shows, but that one I'll never forget.
Chuck: We played some great shows. Ones that stand out for me are the show at Pogo's where I fell through the ceiling over the exit in the middle of singing It's So Scary for YOU, and then crash! - Through the ceiling I went. I finished the song hanging from a 2x4 clutching the mic. Pretty sure I didn't miss a word. We played another great show in Florida in an abandon house that someone had been squatting in. Also, when a club cancelled one of our shows during that same tour we played for a bunch of people outside a storage unit.
Vatican Commandos, Stamford style, Photo: Louann Kruger
Why did Moby leave the band?
Jim: I've told some people I kicked him out of the band and that really shows what an excellent judge of talent I am!! But joking aside--I recall it being a mutual thing. We both had very strong ideas about music (and other things) and we just moved in different directions.
Chuck: You could say Moby and Jim had some creative differences at the time. Moby also had another band at the time AWOL that was a bit more "New Wave" that he was more into.
Tell us about the lost "Crusading" LP, and also about the unreleased "Love Cannon" LP.
Jim: Well, we have about two albums worth of unreleased material. Not bad for a band that only has EPs and compilations released! We also have two sessions of material that was recorded before Hit Squad For God. One additional session with Moby and another with John Farnsworth and Lindsey Anderson on guitar. John and Lindsey are going to join us for a few songs during the show in New York, that should be fun.
The Crusading LP is tough. We had no interest in releasing it ourselves. It was too much work and at that point me Chuck were already in college and starting to get interested in other things. So, we heard from this guy Dickie Yuck who had a decent fanzine and had interest in releasing it. We sent him the original tape. Pretty dumb thing to do.
Crusading had really excellent artwork from Vince Rancid who drew the first record cover. It was pretty distinctive musically--all the songs were varied and we had two guitars at that time. Matt Craig, who sadly, died quite a few years back, played rhythm guitar.
I think the only song that was ever released from that session, was "Last Wish" which wound up on Flipside #4 complication. We heard that Dickie moved to Alaska, then we didn't hear anything, and then, well life goes on and Chuck, Mike and myself really left music behind to pursue other things. Dickie Yuck if you're out there--please send the tapes back--no questions asked.
Chuck: Any copies of these songs that I have are in pretty crappy condition. I had a cassette tape of some of them in a walkman that got stolen so I think that's pretty much it, they are lost. Some of those songs were pretty good but we only played them a bit at some later live shows.
Chip with the Vatican Commandos at the Stamford Anthrax, Photo: Louann Kruger
Now that you are almost 30 years removed from that punk scene, what type of interest have you retained in punk rock or any aggressive music?
Jim: I still love to listen to hardcore and early punk. I listen to a lot of other types of music too-but that was true when were in the band, too.
Chuck: I have a pretty varied music taste...My current pandora mix of stations includes classic rock, Ramones, Agent Orange, adult contemporary, Blues Traveller, Dave Matthews, Dick Dale, Black Sabbath, Damned, X, Foo Fighters, Gang of Four, Texas Blues...and a few more...
Did your experiences with VC shape who you became as adults? How so?
Jim: Absolutely. I own a technology company and we develop hardware and software, it's all project-based. Putting out a record or organizing a tour, it is similar, the band taught me how to organize projects and get things done. I'd like to write book some day called, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in a Punk Rock Band" (ha).
Chuck: Probably, and who knows.
How do you feel about modern punk rock? Is it weird to see the way it is now essentially in the mainstream?
Jim: I think over time acceptance is natural and in retrospect was bound to happen. It is still a bit weird to think there are "punk rock stars" Still, I enjoy listening to mainstream punk bands like The Hives and Green Day.
Chuck: I guess we were ahead of our time...
Any expectations for the July 17th show? How will it feel to play these songs live again?
Jim: I'm really looking forward to it. I lost track of a lot of friends, really looking forward to connecting with everyone. I moved to the West Coast after the band and never really came back. Also, I literally put down the bass for 25 years--so to play again, even practice has been a pleasure. I'm glad too that my son Andrea and daughter Caterina are going to be able to see the show. They'll get to see a side of their Dad that they won't easily forget.
Chuck: We had a great time playing at our first practices and will get together again to work out the bugs before the show. I think it will be fun...I recommend ear protection...it's going to be loud!