Jules with Side By Side at The Anthrax, Photo: Chris Daily
In case you missed the previous installments to this, here you go:
Part 1: Jules Part I
Part 2: Jules Part II
Part 3: Jules Part III
Be sure to scroll down to yesterday's post where you can see the latest batch of records Jules is auctioning off here on DCXX - every cent is going to the relief efforts in Japan. Please consider bidding.
Much more of this interview to come, dig in for now... -Gordo DCXX
Jules in front of the NYC skins at CBGB, Photo: Bri Hurley
What was the reasoning behind doing Alone In A Crowd after Side By Side broke up? What had caused Side By Side to break up, and what was going on within the band?
This is probably the toughest question. Which makes it probably the best question. I don’t know if “reasoning” is the right word. To be honest, I cannot even remember how I got AIAC started. There were a lot of factors that led to forming that band:
1) Side By Side’s internal strife and eventual break-up;
2) The sudden emergence of white power skinhead groups and the media’s love affair with them;
3) Rising intolerance amongst the different groups within the hardcore scene.
Probably the best place to start is Side By Side’s demise. Side By Side was composed of some very strong personalities. That was at once its greatest strength and greatest weakness:
Billy was the oldest. He had grown up in the old D.C. straight edge scene with the Dischord bands. As a result, he had more perspective than any of us. He had already gone through everything I was going through. In fact, I’m surprised he had the patience to put up with a kid like me. Billy was jovial, happy-go-lucky and didn’t have anything to prove to anybody. As a side note, “Big Billy Bitter” was a nickname he never liked. He had a joke about a character he created (he was, and still is, a great comic book artist) called “Mr. Bitter.” So, joking around, I introduced him on stage once as Billy “Bitter” and it stuck. He was never happy about that. Anyway, being more mature, he had already worked out his teen angst. He hated “Dead Serious,” which in hindsight, the lyrics are rather tedious. We kept “Good Clean Fun” on the set list to give a voice to Billy’s temperament (he wrote the music) -- I liked it, but I don't think it was that popular with the rest of the band. It certainly contrasted some of the other things SBS was singing about.
Eric and Billy with Side By Side at CBGB, NYC, Photo: Bri Hurley
Eric was a great guitar player. The majority of Side By Side’s music and lyrics belong to him. He went totally nuts on stage and was always consistent – I can’t remember him messing up... ever. Probably the greatest source of friction had to do with getting him to tone down his playing. All the divebombs and whammy bar _ _ _ _! He and I used to get into it about that. I thought all the solo stuff was too flashy, too rockstar. We compromised, “My Life To Live” was his big solo (which I think worked with that song) and the divebombs were limited. We were all pretty headstrong, Eric was no exception. I dimly recall Billy putting Eric headfirst in a trashcan (only his kicking feet were visible) as a result of some altercation at Giant rehearsal studios. It’s too bad SBS stopped when it did - I think Eric was musically knocking it out of the park right at the time SBS called it quits. His song, to which I penned lyrics and we titled “Guilty,” was great work. I think Uppercut ended up using that music when Eric played with them.
Sammy was really young. Hell, I was really young – he was two or three years younger than me! Being so young, I think he was the least argumentative in the band. But he had his preferences, to be sure. One of the things I was insistent on, to the point of being a dick, was to avoid the typical “mosh” beat that YOT and Bold (Crippled Youth) had made their trademark. So many bands were doing that... YOT were great, but I didn’t want us to sound like another YOT. I was pretty tough on Sammy, probably unfairly so – he was improving all the time. His beats got more refined (he ended up playing double bass after SBS). Despite his age, Sammy wrote the lyrics to “Look Back,” which seems oddly relevant while writing this.
And then there was Alex. Alex was responsible for some of the most iconic (that word is too pretentious -- but I can't think of another one right now) things people associate with Side By Side. He wrote the music to “Backfire,”“Living A Lie” and “The Time Is Now” (the latter evolved out of his jamming with Luke, later Eric added the harmonics at the beginning). The lyrics to “Backfire” and “Living A Lie” were probably 95% Alex’s, if not more. "Living A Lie," for example, was an expression of his anger with some very well known and outspoken "exemplars" of straight edge, who at the time were apparently not practicing what they so vehemently preached. He designed the three silhouettes on the cover of the E.P. They were actually based on photos of LL Cool J. If you were ever wondering why the feet were so big, it was an effect of perspective – the photos upon which the silhouettes were based were taken at an angle. Though not as old as Billy, he was the only other legal adult in the band. Alex worked very hard on SBS initially, but after awhile I think he became disappointed with the direction (or lack of direction) of the band. I suspect he had some impatience with me – he knew a lot more about hardcore, and I was pretty naïve about a lot of stuff.
Sammy delivers the beat with Side By Side at CBGB, NYC, Photo: Bri Hurley
All of us had different vision of the direction Side By Side should take. I had a tendency to act like SBS was “my” band and tell the guys how I wanted things, which didn’t help. And remember, I couldn’t play an instrument, so I’d be telling guys who could play what to sound like, and that doesn’t usually go over well. My opinions were not always wrong, and a lot of the Side By Side sound did come from my input – but at the end of the day, the music was not really mine. And to be honest, I did not contribute much to band management, I was only concerned with content – I didn’t book the shows, I didn’t manage what little money we had, and Jordan Cooper approached us to put out the 7”. Sammy and Alex worked the hardest on that stuff. Just being in a band was enough for me. I didn’t have a “plan,” and I think that was problematic from their perspective. Sammy, despite being so young, was really organized. I remember he used to freak out when things would get out of place in his room, so we used to move things around to mess with him. Anyway, Sammy and Alex may have carried some underlying resentment, and I think it was for the most part justified. I may have started SBS but it was their sweat equity that got us anywhere.
Sammy and Alex also identified more with the whole straight edge, youth crew image than the rest of SBS. In one of the versions of the E.P. cover that Alex did, the middle guy had a small X on his hand. I had a couple of problems with that, not the least of which is that it just didn't look that good from a graphics perspective. The other reason is that I didn't want SBS to be marketed solely under the straight edge "brand" that was becoming so popular. I liked to think we had a broader message.
That last part deserves a little explanation. I’m certain that anyone reading this has heard more people expound on straight edge than they ever wanted to -- so I apologize in advance. Keep in mind, though, I am 25 years out of touch, and have virtually no knowledge about what “straight edge” means to people these days. Not too long ago I watched some national geographic show on cable about straight edge gangs in Reno. Gangs – like the crips and bloods. I don’t know how accurate that documentary was, but the impression I got is that straight edge today bears little or no connection to what straight edge meant to me 25 years ago. So I can only speak about my perception of straight edge as it was back then.
Jules in your face with Side By Side at The Anthrax, Norwalk CT, Photo: Chris Daily
In the mid 80’s drugs and alcohol were looked at in the teen culture as being necessities like food, water, and oxygen. Thanks to the baby boomers, Rock n’ Roll was inescapably joined with “sex and drugs” such that music was not allowed to exist by itself. Shows were just excuses to get drunk or high. Straight edge, for me, was a rejection of this. I remember tremendous amounts of peer pressure as a young teen – to be normal you had to smoke and drink. The last thing I wanted to be was “normal” like the kids at the gas station every weekend.
Naturally I fell in with the straight edge crowd because of the overall shared outlook. And initially I did get caught up in the excitement of the youth crew thing – X’s on the hands, etc. After a while, though, there is only so much you can say about straight edge. It’s a pretty simple concept, really. Once you made the choice, what was there to really discuss? So for me, straight edge was more internal than external. I treated it as a lifestyle choice, not a mission. As a result I had a lot of friends in the scene outside of the straight edge circles.
The youth crew image was a powerful one, and as the new straight edge bands, most notably YOT, got more popular, it seemed straight edge started becoming more externalized. The imagery started taking precedence over the substance. I remember there was this idea of so-called positive peer pressure – in other words pressuring kids to be straight edge. This totally didn’t work for me. In my mind, if you became straight edge by giving in to peer pressure, that was the same as doing drugs or drinking beer because of peer pressure. If you didn’t come to straight edge because of your own choice, then I think you missed the point. For example, I remember some kids whining to me, “I try to be straight edge, but it's hard.” What?!? If you don’t want to be straight, don’t be. It's not like AA -- I'm not your _ _ _ _ ing sponsor. I started seeing an increasing number of kids who were all too eager to put on the youth crew garb and talk the talk, but were struggling with what those symbols represented. I did not want Side By Side to contribute to this trend.
A Side By Side sing a long at CBGB with a yet to join Alex Brown in the crowd, Photo: Bri Hurley
Then Alex started Schism (the name was truly apropos) and recorded the Project X record with Sammy very soon after the shutdown show, while Side By Side was on a brief hiatus. Project X sort of spelled doom for Side By Side. Looking back on it, I think Project X is what Alex and Sammy wanted Side By Side to be. So they found their expression through another medium. When that ended up being more successful than they expected, I think there was very little keeping them in Side By Side. And eventually, of course, Sammy and Alex would play in YOT and GB respectively, which made perfect sense. It's what they wanted to do all along.
Right before the last Side By Side show at the Anthrax, I remember being in the van with YOT and I think GB. Everyone was getting psyched up for the show and a big marker was getting passed around and everyone was putting X’s on their hands. Well, I don’t really remember if it was everyone – it seemed that way though. When the marker came to me I declined. You’d think I shot someone’s dog or said something about someone’s momma. So the _ _ _ _ talking started. Now we used to rip on each other a lot. YOT were really, really good at busting balls (Porcell had this “maybe not there, dick” retort that was a staple). This felt different. I could’ve misinterpreted it, but to me at 16, it seemed as if I had been given an ultimatum of the "you're either you’re with us or against us” variety. I mean these guys knew me, why did I have to prove anything to them, or to anybody for that matter. This was exactly the kind of thing I was in hardcore to get away from. If they wanted to get psyched up with X’s, then so be it. They didn’t need me for that. It seems silly talking about it now, but at 16, this really, really pissed me off.
So, during SBS’s set between songs, I said something to the crowd about what happened. When I said “I don’t need X’s on my hands to prove I’m straight edge,” Alex and I think Sammy and maybe Porcell (the members of Project X -- coincidence?) started saying _ _ _ _ like “pussy” and “straight edge in your face.” Maybe they were kidding – or, maybe not there, dick. I didn't know. I didn't care at that point. Anyway, I finally said “no matter how you cut it IT’S MY _ _ _ _ ING LIFE TO LIVE!” and the band took the cue perfectly and we went right into the song. Totally unrehearsed. Totally us being all pissed off at each other. And you know what? It was one of the best shows we ever did. But Side By Side was done very soon after. I think we had a show scheduled in Pennsylvania with Underdog. I can't remember who called who, or if we broke up in person -- I only remember that we bagged the show and called it quits.
Jules, Lars and Eric with Side By Side at The Anthrax, Photo: Chris Daily
That last Anthrax show was the only show Lars played with SBS. He replaced Billy after he left. Well, let me correct that. Billy didn’t “leave”- he was voted out. Losing Billy was really the beginning of Side By Side's end. The reason for the vote was he was not the best bass player. We had just finished recording the 7” and some of the guys were not happy with his track. So it was put to a vote. I didn’t vote ‘cause I didn’t think it was legit. And somehow, it fell on me to tell him. I never felt right about that whole deal. Sometime later I was talking to Mike Judge about it, and he said “so what if he can't play? That's no reason to kick somebody out.” I think he was right. Side By Side wasn’t built on technical ability – we were one of the loosest bands out there. But we did go all out on stage. Heck, we even got 86’d from several rehearsal studios because we went off when we practiced. Billy was a founding member of SBS – he shouldn’t have been kicked out. I should have had the courage to end the band right there, but the EP had just been recorded and I couldn't bring myself to say "if he goes, I go" – that was a moment of weakness on my part.
I am not going to use the tired cliche about the flame that "burns twice as bright but half as long." Side By Side was not a flame, it was a bomb. We detonated -- boom -- and if you blinked you missed the explosion. Very few people got to see us -- we were only together for a year and broke up before the EP came out. So what most people know of Side By Side through the various recordings is merely a remnant - the shrapnel left over after the explosion. I don't think any of the recordings ever really did Side By Side justice. Our music was never that great -- but that was only a small part of the experience. Being on stage and interacting with the crowd was everything. For example, at an Anthrax show -- during one song everybody got unplugged in the chaos except for drums and vocals -- it didn't matter. I think in that same show, the mic cord pulled out and there were no vocals -- it didn't matter. You just can't capture it on a record -- the live show was what it was all about.
Jules with Side By Side at CBGB, Photo: Bri Hurley
Now before anybody jumps to any conclusions, my recollections of Side By Side's break-up are not an attack on anybody. I don't hold a grudge and this is not me "airing dirty laundry" or "picking sour grapes." It was only sitting down to write for Double Cross that I have even thought about any of this. I've tried to give an honest account to the best of my recollection -- which is admittedly not great. So much of what I've said should be taken with a grain of salt. One thing must be understood, the break-up was nobody's fault. Side By Side was going to break up no matter what. If I had had better people skills, it wouldn't have been as bad a break up -- but it would have happened anyway. The members' interests were just too divergent.
Infighting aside, Side By Side was a group effort, and would never have happened without each member's unique input. And I am very grateful that we ended clean. Any one of the ex-Side By Side members could have attempted to capitalize on the record release and started the band up again with a new lineup. That would have been ruinous. Thankfully Side By Side didn't go the way of so many other bands: ever-revolving lineups that eventually bore little or no resemblance to the original. Since the breakup, there have never been unkind words exchanged between any of us that that I can recall. Alex and Sammy have had great success with their post Side By Side endeavors. I am nothing if not very happy for them. In fact, Sammy used to invite me to CIV shows years later. As far as Porcell, same thing -- he may have busted my balls at times, but he was always genuinely supportive. He just showed up at Don Fury's when we were recording the AIAC record. I don't even know how he knew we were there -- anyway, I invited him to sing backing vocals. When AIAC played the first show, Porcell was right there singing along.
I was, and still am, very proud to have been a part of Side By Side and work with such intense, talented guys. Not many 16 year olds back then were so lucky to have been part of such a cool thing. I am grateful to them for the experience.
Jules with Side By Side at CBGB, while someone goes for the stage skank, Photo: Bri Hurley
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 2:35 PM