John with an Undertow sing along at The Glasshouse, 2009, Photo: Tom Holcomb
At this point you're putting out records, and the lyrical content is getting really dark and heavy and emotional. I was just wondering what inspired this shift.
Both me and John probably split the lyrics in half. If there was a song that I wrote and I felt it should be sung a certain way, I was writing the lyrics. But I think both of us were just in a place where it seemed redundant to sing about . . . we were too young, I mean we're not going to sing about politics or the way the world should be. [As for] singing about straight edge - for everybody in Undertow it was a personal thing. In Seattle, outside of Murph, everybody I went to high school with, nobody was straight edge. Just me and him, and maybe a few other kids. But for us it was all a very personal thing. We sang about being vegetarian, but I think we realized kind of quickly, "Everybody's doing this. I'm just going to write about what's fucking bothering me. " All of us in the band didn't necessarily have the best upbringings, and probably listened to a lot of Rites of Spring (laughs).
What kind of upbringing are you talking about here? What kind of home lives did the members have?
I think I can say for me, Murph and Demian that there was sort of absentee parents. And we certainly found a connection with our friends, especially in the band, that we're doing something special, and we LOVE this and we're going to keep doing this. I don't want to say they were all bad, and you'd have to talk to those other guys about it, and my upbringing wasn't BAD. I could do whatever I want from the age of 15 on. You know, come home at midnight.
So you're like a latch-key kid.
Yeah, and so fortunately we found something pretty positive to be involved in. And then John's upbringing - I don't know. He actually lived about 45 minutes away from all of us, so we would see him at practice. We were just talking about personal experiences. And stuff that was like ex-girlfriends, and being in high school, and living on our own for the first time, and it's about family. That's what we could write. I couldn't make a speech like Ray could about, "Let's change the world," because I'm fucking 19, and I'm a fucking fuck-up. Ha.
Mark getting aggro at the Burning Fight show, 2009, Photo: Tom Holcomb
There are a few songs that I want to know specifically what they are about. What's the song "Control" about?
I wrote it, the lyrics to it. For me, and all the guys in Undertow knew this - I guess we felt like we were preaching to the choir. That we felt like we were doing this independent thing, but at that point we felt like everything had kind of shifted into being a clique - that it's all about having an X Swatch, and having the tour shirt, and all this and that, and we're singing songs on stage that people are psyched on and I guess getting from a message from, and we're part of the scene, but we're kind of just speaking out redundancies, you know, about preaching to the choir. And I realized at a certain point, well, I want to be in Indecision, I want to be in Boiling Point, I want to be in these fanzines, but I realized I wasn't really having independent thought, that everything I was doing was kind of based around what's going to elevate Undertow or what's going to make me look better, which is what we all do in cliques, but I realized straight edge at that time had become a clique, where everybody's wearing the same clothes. You can't say for the punk kids, "Look at them with their fucking studs, and jean jackets, and leather jackets," while WE are all wearing the same uniform. Everyone wants the coolest shirt. It just became apparent that this isn’t really independent thought that we're preaching about.
Follow your rules so I can be myself.
Listen to what you say so I can think for myself.
Everything I say has been said before.
Everything I think has been thought before.
who is in control?
All my beliefs have been traced out for me.
My fate has been laid out for me.
I look in the mirror and all I see is you.
I look at myself and all I see is you.
who is in control?
Ill fight you, Ill resist you.
You cant control me
How about the song "Cedar"?
That's our anti-God song. Nobody in the band is religious. We're all atheists. Some of us have religious upbringings. That [song] is a straight up "No God" [message].
Born into it, taught to believe.
Told to find him inside of me.
Set me free.
Engraved messages, directed to follow. Conditioned path, forced to swallow.
Set me free.
You tell me to kneel, bow down to his grace and plea forgiveness.
If what I've done is wrong in his eyes then let my own spirit be my guide.
Forced to swallow your lies.
I cannot swallow your lies.
You mentioned that your mother is Catholic. Did you have a Catholic upbringing?
Yeah. My mom almost became a nun before she met my dad. I didn't go to Catholic school. It's not as bad as some other people have it. It's pretty mild. I went to First Communion, and did the whole thing up until I was like 13. My mom was like, "I'm tired of dragging you to this shit. If you don't want to go, don't go." I think I've been to church once [since then], on Christmas Eve FOR my mom.
She wasn't heartbroken that you didn't stick with the religion?
She still is to this day! I wouldn't say she thinks I'm going to Hell, but she's scared for me. I guess there's that. Disappointed, I would say. Me and her have talked about this, and she will say, "Well yeah. I'm disappointed, I'm scared. Maybe God won't let you into Heaven."
Murph with Undertow at Burning Fight, 2009, Photo: Tom Holcomb
What did you think of the religious messages in a lot of hardcore lyrics at the time, examples being the whole Krishna-core thing?
I always felt like they had a right to say what they wanted to say, because that to me is the idea about punk rock. And you don't have to listen to it, or you can. It was a little weird, well a lot weird that the guy from Youth of Today became a Hare Krishna, and I know the guys from Cro-Mags. There was this movement going on and people were kind of like, "Oh I love Shelter." But you're singing about being Hare Krishna. I always thought that there's always going to be a balance with bands like Undertow and what's that fucking band that Kent McClard put out? Downcast. There are going to be other bands within the scene saying, "No no, this is fucking stupid," but I always felt like I hated being at shows when people were telling people to shut up on stage. Maybe it's my own personal thing, but I always thought, "Well we're going to get up and say the exact opposite." We're punk rock. Everybody should be entitled to say what they want. Although, in retrospect, I don't think religion has a place in punk rock at all.
Why is that?
Conformity. To me punk rock is about being who you want to be. It doesn't necessarily mean you need have to have a fucking mohawk. It's an ideal that, "I'm independent. I don't need to follow anything." And religion - the whole concept is believing in one thing. Does that make sense?
Yep, it does.
I gotta say I love 108. Everything Vic Dicara does is fucking sick as shit. And I love Rob Fish's voice. It's hard not to like that stuff. Undertow did a bunch of shows with Shelter, and they're all fucking really nice guys, and there are parts of Krishna . . . I'm still vegetarian. So the animal rights movement and kind of being at peace. I think Buddhism is okay in a sense, in that it's more personal thought than it is . . . I don't like religion as a movement, but if you find personal peace in it then I guess I'm okay with that.
What's the song "Everything" about?
I wrote that song too, the lyrics. It's about a specific person, and not in a bad way. It was kind of along the same lines as "Control" in that we realized we were doing things to impress the people that we thought we needed to impress.
Tell me how you feel. Your opinion means everything to me. I can't make up my mind. Open my eyes to what you see. Tell me what you're thinking. I need to know. Without knowing what you think, I feel so alone. Why do I let you make the call. Why do I let you decide it all. My world is decided by what you think. Without your voice I sink. Hanging on your every word. Deciding what's right or wrong. The strength that your words bring, make me feel like I belong. Holding you so high. Your thoughts become my religion. Everything you say clouds my own decisions.
It's about a girl right?
No. It's about a dude. It's about a friend. It's just kind of a heart-felt thing that I realized that, wow, I'm trying to impress this person. It was about, "I'm trying to impress these people." Everything I do is . . . I'm trying to remember the lyrics.
Demian with Undertow in 2009, Photo: Tom Holcomb
Who was it about?
I don't want to say. It's kind of embarrassing. (laughs) It's a good friend, I'm still friends with him. He knows the song is about him. If there's a fifth member to Undertow, he might be it. Good friend of everybody's, still hangs out and shit. I think we realized . . . we became self-aware of what we were doing to impress other people. It wasn't just about, "I want to write a great riff." It was, "I want to write this great riff so that I can impress this person who will then influence all these other people." It just kind of became self-aware. I mean there are PLENTY of songs about girls. (laughter)
You just haven't named them yet!
We have like five or six songs about heartbreak.
Were there females that kind of rolled with your posse, so to speak?
Yeah. They used to be called the Underho's. (laughter) Yeah, and I would say there was some cross-pollenization going on.
You mean girls who dated multiple members?
There was one girl who dated three of us that I almost dated, and fooled around with while she was dating John.
John and Mark deliver Undertow to the Burning Fight crowd, Photo: Tom Holcomb
Did you guys get mad at each other for that kind of stuff?
No . . . well yeah. I think Murph and Seth had issues. Me personally, I think I probably screwed up a few situations. I was like, "Well, oh well." I was so involved with music that I didn't really think about girls that much. There were two that kind of broke up the band, made things real hard. But we were all so young. There were some girls that . . . yeah. Were . . . yeah. (laughter) One of them I think is fucking awesome to this day, and one of them, I love hearing that shit's bad for her. And she's dating I don't want to say who, and I don't want to name names, but she's dating a guy in a HUGE band and from what I hear, it's just awful. (laughter) He just cheats on her, and they have a kid together, and she's a fucking mess. The other one was just innocent. Just having fun. "I like this guy so I'm going to like him." The other one I think maybe manipulated shit and really caused a lot of friction.
Moving onto lighter topics . . .
I like talking about all that shit. (laughs)
Tell me about the Seattle-San Diego connection and what kind of influence you had on bands like Unbroken.
I like to think it was mutual. We became friends with them. Ron and Dave used to get us tours. This is the second generation of Undertow where Joel is still singing and Seth . . . well Seth was from San Diego and that was another big connection. So it was really easy for us to come down on spring break and get us shows. You just had to say you were a straight edge band. Seth knew all the guys in Unbroken. I think him and Rob [Moran] grew up together and we became fast friends with those guys. We were all the same age, and those guys treated us SO well. It was our home away from home, and even as years progressed, we were all starting bands, and both Steve [Miller] and Eric [Allen] could fucking play their brains out when they were fucking 16, and Steve could fucking shred. But I think we were all kind of figuring out our bands, and there was a friendly competition between us and Unbroken. And I think for everybody in Undertow, we liked Unbroken more than we liked anybody else in the scene, not just because we knew the dudes, but . . . I mean we loved Integrity, we loved Burn, there are some more examples, but it was really easy for us to go down to play California, and when we did, we stayed in San Diego. Everybody was in Chula Vista, and they called it the Chula Vista Lench Mob. I swear to God it was like 20 dudes deep. And when Undertow came to town, and I'm sure it wasn't just because of us, but when we were in town and there was a show going on, it would be 20 dudes deep, and you knew them all, and it felt like your cousins that you hadn't seen in a while. Everybody just fucking hung out and we broke into swimming pools. It was the best time in our life. As each band got better there was friendly competition. I wanted to impress the guys in Unbroken. Hopefully they wanted to impress us. I think there was mutual respect. There was no real competition. We were just really good friends coming up at the same time, all the same age. Everybody got along amazingly. There was definitely a bond there. To this day, I'd rather play with Unbroken than anybody else.
Mark with Undertow and the sleeveless Slayer shirt, Photo: Tom Holcomb
When you first played in San Diego, you were playing through a specific type of guitar and a specific type of amp, and that influenced the Unbroken guys to buy the exact same equipment. What was that?
It was a Fender M-80. Solid state. MASSIVE gain, but no balls. And then I used to play a BC Rich, because I was trying to rip off Vic [Dicara], but that broke super fast, and I ended up just buying what I could find. It's called The Paul, but I think they're also called Firebrand. It's a woodgrain Les Paul copy, like a Les Paul Jr. It's like thin and . . .
Made by Gibson though.
Yeah. They were like 400 bucks, and I heard now they're going for like 2 grand. I WISH I still had one. Yeah, that quickly became kind of a west coast sound.
Right, because dudes in Unbroken started playing them.
Twice I got phone calls. One dude I know, and one dude I don't. And I don't want to say who it is, but I got calls from people asking me how I got my sound. And at 18, you're like, "Fuck yeah, dude. (laughter) People want to know about MY sound? Hell yeah." The Fender M-80s were like dirt cheap. They were like 300 bucks or something, and durable as hell. But you listen to them now, and it just hurts my ears.
And then there was also a riff from an Undertow song that Unbroken "borrowed" so to speak. (Mark laughs) What two songs were they?
It is "Taken" from Undertow, and I can't recall what song it is from Unbroken. (laughs)
It's on Life. Love. Regret. I can look it up. [the song is "End of a Life Time" - Ben]
I've heard a bunch of different versions of what happened. I've heard that it happened on accident. The other version that I've heard was that, "I heard it and I liked it so much that I wanted to borrow it." I don't know which one is genuine. I like to think that it was borrowed, because it makes me think that the original riff was good enough that somebody liked it so much. I can appreciate that. Because if you listen to some of the Undertow stuff, I'm straight up ripping off Burn and Integrity. I can play you riff for riff a Swiz riff. "Cutting Away" - it's a Swiz riff.
What Swiz song?
It's the very last song on the first LP. [the song is "Frame" - Ben] And it's all music, but at the very last thing they're doing kind of like fills to fill that last "DUN!" And they do it three different ways, but one of them goes, "DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUUUUN . . . DUN DUN." (laughs) I straight up ripped that off. I'm okay with it. It's kind of been an ongoing joke [between Undertow and Unbroken], because there was a friendly competition. Undertow recorded "Taken" and "Cedar" to test out the studio, before Unbroken went into the studio. So I can verify that. (laughs)
Demian drops the bass, Photo: Tom Holcomb
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 8:24 PM