Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dave Stein - Hardcore Lawyer

[NYHC New Years Eve Party, Dave Stein in center with beer on head. Photo: Boiling Point]

I remember watching the In-Effect video when I was real young and seeing the dude in the suit talking about hardcore. I was completely immersed in hardcore and figured that my obsession would simply lead to working in a record store or possibly even being unemployed - as a young buck at the time I was naive and just didn't equate "hardcore kid" with "future professional." I just figured that if I was that into this, it wouldn't be "cool" to have a normal job. I'm not gonna say Dave Stein made me want to be an attorney, which I am today, but it was cool back then to realize that it was in fact kosher to be a hardcore kid and have some legitimate "straight world" career goals.

From building the mid 80s Albany Hardcore Scene, to running Combined Effort and Reconstruction Records, to representing major label-level metal and hardcore bands, Dave Stein has been a fixture in the behind the scenes workings of the scene we are all a part of.

-Gordo DCXX

When did you become aware of hardcore music, and how? Had you been into metal, punk, skating prior to all of that?

Before I listened to hardcore music, I listened to new wave (Joe Jackson), punk (The Clash) and reggae (The Rockers Soundtrack was a favorite). I listed to college radio and that's where I first heard music that was not mainstream music, and from there I went to buy the records I heard at a local record store near where I grew up. The guy who owned the record store really loved music (imagine that) and would make tapes for me of stuff he thought I might like. He realized I was drawn to the faster punk stuff and from there he turned me on to the early Dischord stuff. I never listened to metal stuff. JFA was a big band back then, and music just wasn't as stratified then as it is now.

When people think of Albany Hardcore in the mid 80s, they think of you and Steve Reddy. How did you help put that scene on that map?What are your fondest memories of the Albany Hardcore scene?

When I started going to school at SUNYA in 1983, the local scene was great, but not that many shows were happening with out of town bands. I remember seeing JFA at the EBA Dance Center off Lark Street and at some point MDC came through, but the shows weren't consistent. Jimmy Romano who owned a flower shop on Lark Street and sang in Capitle was the guy putting on the shows. In 1984 7 Seconds did their first tour and I'd been writing to the band and befriended Kevin but didn't have anywhere to put on a show. We went to see the band in Syracuse, where Belvy K, a high school kid who played drums in the Catatonics, put on the show. Belvy convinced me to find a VFW hall to put on a show so his band could play, and by the fall of 1984 we had done so. Things were started off by me and Sue Klingle with some help from Allen Seligson. The local kids at first didn't seem to like the idea that the college kids were putting on shows, but local bands ALWAYS played, and after a few months shows were consistent and great. That's how it began.

Albany got put on the map because all the bands loved playing there. The shows were cool, the kids were friendly, the bands always had a place to stay, and then they all told their friends bands to play Albany. Eventually, by the summer of 1985, I moved into a house with Pam Lockrow and Kevin Jones and Pam and Kevin helped book the shows and it was a great summer - Dag Nasty, Descendents, Agnostic Front, Suicidal Tendencies, etc. By the fall, Kevin moved out and Steve Reddy moved in.

Part of the scene getting on the map was also the Youth of Today connection. I had known Ray and Porcell from Violent Children and YOT became a bit of a house band...other than a show in a basement, Albany was their first out of town show. Porcell went to collge at some SUNY school west of Albany, and in the fall of 1985 starting coming to Albany every weekend as there was no scene at his school. Ray would come up and they'd practice in our basement and played quite a bit in Albany at that time.

My fondest memories are the bands that came back time and again and really loved the scene we built...Dag Nasty, Underdog, Youth of Today, 7 Seconds, Justice League. Mike Rapazzo, drummer for Fit For Abuse, said it best about the scene at that time: if you didn't know someone when they walked in the door, you knew them by the time they left. The other thing we did that was different was that we had fun, whether it was a twister game between sets or the regular runs to Chuck E. Cheese after the show, we did things a bit differently in Albany at that time.

What made you decide to start Combined Effort, and what was the goal of the label at the time when many people remember NYHC as really firing on all cylinders?

Goal? I don't know that anyone thought that far ahead, but the idea was first, to put Albany's bands on the map with the first compilation we did (the first two records were done when Steve Reddy was part of the label, but then he moved to PA and I took over the label) and then to try to help friends' bands. If there was a goal it was to put out good music. As a music lawyer, I've been involved with records that have literally sold millions of copies, but nothing makes me more proud than to have been involved with that Life's Blood EP.

Let's talk about a few other Combined Effort releases. The BEYOND LP was a hell of a recording by a great band. Schism wanted them, and they had a lot of buzz then. How did you snatch them up, what was your relationship with the band, and how do you feel about that record nearly 20 years later?

I had become friendly with the band because they had played in Albany and Alan and I had similar thoughts on animal rights issues before such were common in the scene. I got to put out the record simply by being in the right place at the right time. Schism wanted to do the record but were asking the band to hold off on making the record as they weren't in a position to put it out. I think the record is a great document to show what was happening at that time and it has withstood the test of time. Most of the guys in Beyond have gone on to have success in other bands, but the combination of those guys at that time was something very special.

Similarly, the Supertouch EP is considered by many as their favorite Supertouch recording, even if the recording isn't the best and didn't capture the band's live spirit. Were you a fan of theirs from the beginning? Do you have any memorable stories from doing that record?

I knew Supertouch from Mark's Death Before Dishonor days. They had managed to come up pretty quickly, playing Ritz shows and CBGB matinees pretty early in their career given the history with DBD. Unlike what labels do now, the deal then was pretty much "here's the budget, bring back a record." The only memorable story is the upside down back cover. There was one guy out west who worked at a manufacturing plant and got great deals on those cardboard covers, which I always liked a lot more than the paper sleeve in a plastic bag. The guy had done stuff for Revelation and I used him to make those covers...his prices were far far better than anyone else, but we came to the determination, when we had the problem and he wouldn't fix it, that the great prices were the fact that the material was coming out the back door.

The Absolution EP - incredible songs, and a recording some people describe as "unlistenable." What did you think at the time of the band and the recording? Any thoughts on their upcoming reunions (in Miami and NYC)?

The band was incredible live, but it never translated properly when they recorded. Djinji was an incredible live performer, and it was one of those bands, like Beyond, where the sum was greater than the whole of its parts. I don't know that I'll go to Miami to see them play, but I'll certainly be front and center at their NYC show.

During this time period, you were also going to law school and then becoming an attorney. Despite it being a major career field, I can count maybe a dozen hardcore kids that are attorneys (including you and me). What was your draw to the profession?

I guess a big part of hardcore is some level of fairness and righteousness and I guess that's what drew me towards a career as a lawyer. At some point I had a vision that I'd be a first amendment lawyer or a criminal defense lawyer, but I accumulated massive debt in law school and "sold out" by taking a mega-firm job at Cravath with an expectation of paying off my loans quickly and figuring it out from there. When I started working there, the label stopped, but somehow I got involved in Reconstruction Records, a cool hardcore record store that lasted in the East Village from November 1990 to November 1992. Eventually, I worked my way towards being a music lawyer and I'm back to working with many of the people I worked with in the mid-90s, with a client roster that includes Equal Vision (Steve Reddy), Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, etc.

You mentioned Reconstruction Records. A lot of people remember this as a really great record store, and some major finds for people were acquired here. What are some of your best memories of the store, who was involved, and why did it ultimately close? Having been involved, are you shocked at what some HC records sell for these days?

The store was started by a few of us who owned labels at the time. Me with Combined Effort, Sam McPheeters with Vermiform, Charles Maggio of Gern Blandsten and Freddy Alva of Wardance. The idea really was a co-op, and it was not run as a for-profit venture. As I recall, the idea behind it was to have a place that allowed kids to hang out, listen to music and come up with ideas of their own. The staff was volunteer and if you worked there you got a discount. Records were all priced at a specific percentage mark-up and rarities were not priced, but put up on the wall and people could bid on them (well before the days of eBay). It closed because the landlord raised the rent incredibly and it just wasn't affordable. People paying high prices for records, it seems to me, are people who are trying to buy into something they weren't a part of. You don't see the kid who actually was at CBs in the summer of 1985 buying a YOT seven inch on eBay, but rather the guy who wants his friends to think he was there.

Around this same time, HC obviously was getting courted by the majors, with the infamous SOIA/Born Against debate, In-Effect, Quicksand LP, and even the rise of Rage Against The Machine. From a HC kid perspective and also as an attorney who was becoming familiar with "the business," what was your stance on HC being pushed into the mainstream? How has that changed over time with your work?

Hardcore will never be part of the mainstream...perhaps elements of it have and will reach out to people outside the scene, and surely different fashion statements that came with our scene have become mainstream, but the music itself won't ever go there. It used to be that any time you saw someone with a bunch of tattoos in NYC, you knew who they were if you didn't know them. There was one store in the city you could buy Doc Martens from and the choices were rather limited (I never owned a pair myself, but if you saw someone with a pair you knew they were part of our scene). The closest thing we have going now in the "mainstream" major label world from our scene is Anti-Flag, certainly more punk than hardcore, and a band for which I have incredible respect. They moved to a major from Fat with a hope to reach a wider audience. While I don't think it has been a miserable failure for them, I don't think they did much if any better than they did on Fat. I think by its design of rebellion, hardcore could never be mainstream and I'd never want it to be.

What have been your favorite things to work on as an attorney representing bands and labels in the music business? What are your favorite accomplishments from a legal perspective with your clients?

My favorite position is to see a band go from an idea or a small place to somewhere where they are successful, living their dream and affecting the way their fans think and feel. While it is incredible to see a band I work with go from playing VFW halls to arenas, it's just as great to be talking to a smaller band outside their van at a show and have some kid come up and tell them how a particular song made them feel a certain way or take a certain action. From a legal perspective with my clients, it is the satisfaction of getting the job done well, which is usually not realized immediately. I spend a fair amount of time getting people out of bad deals that they did before I worked with them or against my advice, and when those are worked out there is a great deal of satisfaction there as well.

Have you dealt with many bands or labels that are just a nightmare to work with? Is it tough always trying to fight for the band/label? What do you dislike the most about these clients in general?

I'm in a lucky position because I can let clients go when they are difficult to deal with. I work very hard and don't want to work for someone who isn't working as hard as I am for them. The difficult problems are not when my client is a nightmare, because I can usually sort that out, but when the other side of a deal or dispute acts unreasonably. But that's just part of life.

How many people that you work with know your background in hardcore? Do these people ever have any idea that you were moshing for Agnostic Front in 1984, or do they just think you are a smart guy in a suit?

Most if not all of my bands know where I come from. I don't know if the AF reference was from the show flyer that is my homepage, but I'm certainly not a smart guy in a suit. I'm lucky enough that my office is MY OFFICE, with a Clash poster on the wall, and usually my two dogs are at the office with me. I wear t-shirts to the office and have gone to meetings at major labels in jeans and sneakers...often times being thought of by people I don't know as being one of the band.

What are you listening to these days music-wise? Are there any current bands (of any genre) that you really like? What about current hardcore - does anything stand out to you?

I still listen to most of the same stuff I've always listened to...a good mix of punk, hardcore and reggae. Most recently, the heaviest plays of new stuff have been the upcoming Terror, H2O and Street Dogs albums (having those bands as clients means I get to hear stuff early), and the new Anti-Flag and Luciano albums. To me Terror stands out as the new breed of hardcore that is keeping the old school spirit and sound. Of course, SOIA, AF and Madball are still making records and getting out on the road with true NYHC authenticity.

To this day, who would you say are your five favorite hardcore bands?

In no particular order, 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front, Minor Threat, Underdog and Bad Brains.

What was the best show you ever attended?

It's hard to say...probably some of the early Jane Street Rock Hotel shows, but there was one Scream show up in Syracuse that was pretty amazing as well.

In 1988 did you think you would be an attorney in the music business? Where do you think you will be in 2028?

In 1988 if I thought forward 20 years, I certainly never would have imagined that I'd be a music lawyer and call they guys in AF, Sick Of It All and Madball clients, nor did I honestly think any of those bands would still be bands.
In 2028 I'll probably be looking out for many of the same people I'm looking out for now, and still call them my friends and clients.


elawgrrl said...

Interesting post - I agree with Dave's comments about the underlying similarities between hardcore and the law: fairness and righteousness (not always positive in either arena). You would be surprised how many hardcore kids have turned into lawyers which I think illustrates part of the point of hardcore. Though many hardcore people decide they have grown out of the scene they still manage to keep the underlying principles in their hearts and apply them in their every day lives.

Tom Brose said...

Dave was super cool with me back then. In fact, he was going to put out the Confront ep, but we couldn't get our shit together. I got to go to that New years Eve party as well!

Grandnagus69 said...

Two words for Dave Stein...Class Act. I was very fortunate to be his friend back in the late 1980's-early 1990's. Besides Adam Nathanson, he is definitely one of my influences in becoming vegetarian. I always loved when he'd bring the first box of Combined Effort releases to shows and sometime help him sell them...always will have a good memory of the guy...

Dave K.

-cja said...

oh man... i wish you guys asked him if it was true about the Absolution 7" being mastered slow... hence the 'weird' sound. cool read.

Grandnagus69 said...

Chris, Dave definitely didn't have the best of luck when it came to some of the records he released. The Absolution mastering was definitely screwed up. Listen to the tracks as they are on the CD and MP3s, big difference (even though it still doesn't capture what the band really sounded like). I also remember Gavin being pissed about the later releases of the 7" as the print jobs on the cover seemed to degrade with each pressing.

One thing about Combined Effort is that he did not release any "clunkers" and that is hard for a label to do over time...

Dave K.

Chris M said...

HA! I totally remember that Scream show Dave references...wasn't that the night the Albany crew showed up in a U-Haul? And with a Lay-Z-Boy and a keg rolling around in the back? I think it was... That gig was kinda/sorta/pretty much a disaster in that it was the end of the ECOH in Syracuse as a viable venue (at least until the far more responsible SxE kids came of age and got it off the ground again), but the band was in top form, and the Albany kids definitely brought along an extra dose of energy and excitement....ahh, memories...

Great site, btw...I just kind of wandered in here, but at first glance it's very cool to see a site that has a thoghtful & articulate approach to bringing HC ethics and attitude into the real world. Keep up the good work!

Defense Diva said...

I think many young people are attracted to hardcore for the same reasons they might be attracted to law.. both provide a structure that we missed in our family homes growing up, and a sense of fairness we didn't feel being outsiders. After listening to hardcore for many years and practicing law for the last 6 1/2 (criminal defense and juvenile), I have learned that, much like hardcore and the rest of the world, law is made up of all kinds of people with all kinds of intentions. There is no true moral code as life is far more fluid and interesting with lots of ethical questions and dynamics. This is an interesting article, thanks for sharing it.

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bob mosca said...

Dave stein,steve reddy,combined effort,,the best thing ta happen upstate in the 80's,I was only 14-15 yrs old goin ta 288 lark st for the Saturday matinees,,only knew a few people when I started goin ta shows,made a lot of friends in little time,,,best yrs of my life,,,it was when hardcore was still true and pure,now its a fashion statement like everything else these days,,,dave and steve thanx for makin me the man I am today,and thanx for the great experiences I had and friends I made,,,combined effort=original hardcore