Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pressure Release - Tom Kuntz

[Pressure Release, Tom and Doug, photo courtesy of Joe Snow]

I think I speak for Tim as well when I say that Pressure Release is a band we both really love that started somewhere cool and ended up somewhere weird and mysterious, but simultaneously even cooler. Not to slag the early material, but the seven inch is so dark and bizarre (considering the time and previous material) that I have a hard time even thinking it was the same band with straight forward youth anthems a year prior. Nonetheless, that is our favorite material. I have never done angel dust, but I would imagine that if I ever did, at some point the Pressure Release seven inch would appear and start playing very, very loudly.

Guitarist Tom Kuntz popped up on the Livewire message board about six months back during a great and lengthy thread about the band. I made a mental note to track him down, and finally just caught up with him. This is part one of a large overall piece we will be doing on Pressure Release over how ever long it takes to publish all possible information about them. Wanna contribute? Get in touch.
-Gordo DCXX

I know Gordo pretty much spoke for the both of us already, but I still wanted to chime in. He definitely hit the nail on the head when he said the later Pressure Release material struck a unique chord with me. As much as I love the early material, X Marks The Spot, etc, the New Breed comp and 7" are my favorite. Especially with the 7", the sound is so dark and dissonant, I always felt some sort of BL'AST! vibe and connected with it. Definitely my favorite 7" ever released on New Age and along with Turning Point, one of the main reasons I wanted my band, Mouthpiece, on New Age.

A couple random memories I have regarding Pressure Release was talking to Tom on the phone sometime in 1989. I remember I was working on Common Sense fanzine at the time and wanted to reach out to Tom and coordinate an interview. We talked for a bit, but for some reason or another, the interview never came together. I guess I'm finally getting that interview.

The other memory was when Alex Napeck was playing bass in Burn and the entire band had hung out at my girlfriend's parents house. Chaka and Gavin were doing all the talking, while Alan and Alex were the quite ones. Alex especially hardly said a word and really kept to himself. I remember all I could think of was, "This dude played bass in Pressure Release!" At one point Alex was hanging out in the kitchen, by himself, so I came in and said, "What's up?" He responded with a "Hey," and that was the beginning and end of our conversation. I wanted so badly to dig the guy's brain for Pressure Release talk and YOT "We're Not In This Alone" promo photo talk, but it just wasn't happening. The dude was on a completely different plane and I unfortunately was not going to have any luck cracking him. Who knows, maybe I'll get another chance someday.

How did you get into hardcore and when would this have been? When would straight edge tie into this?

It was around 1986 I believe. Me and my friends were doing lots of skateboarding and the music sort of went with the territory. At first we were into the really mainstream skate stuff like Black Flag and JFA and then we started going to local hardcore shows and realized we really liked the local things going on.

Straight Edge at the time just seemed really interesting and we related to the people in that scene, I don't really know what the defining moment was when we all said "let's be straight edge!" I can't really remember. But I know that after a few years of that, we started to feel the opposite way about it, we were more focused about the music, and not on the fact that we were a "straight edge band." We didn't want fans based on what we stood for, we wanted people who appreciated the sounds we were making and to not lump us in with other bands.

Pressure Release started out as a very "youth" oriented band associated with the CT straight edge scene. Who would you cite as your biggest influences and closest comrades? What bands personally inspired you to pick up a guitar and write songs? really depends on what stage of that entire time. My ideas and influences were changing rapidly during that time. Our closest friends were a combination of the CT bands like Up Front and Wide Awake, etc., but because our bassist and drummer lived in NYC, we also had a connection to the NYC bands like Gorillla Biscuits, etc. When we made our demo, we were very much listening these sorts of bands.

By the time of recording our seven inch, we were listening to much different stuff. Articles Of Faith, Life's Blood, Metallica, Human Rights, the Cro-Mags demo, BL'AST!, Void, etc. BL'AST! and Void were definitely big influences. We really wanted to make a cross genre record, we really wanted to make something unique. We were gravitating heavily to the dark side of things. We wanted to make an introspective, serious, dark record with strange influences. In the studio we were playing with weird African percussion instruments and synthesizers, and layered guitar solos, but I will come back to this.

Can you give a full run down of the Pressure Release line-up from beginning to end. Specifically what caused Doug to be replaced by Ben, and how did you feel about that change?

Original line up:
Tom Kuntz: guitar

Alex Napeck: bass

Sam Haffy (or happy?): guitar

Thai Park: drums

Doug Byrnes: vocals

At some point early on, we asked Sam to leave the band. I think basically because he wasn't that serious about it or something and couldn't really play his instrument. I can barely remember. For a while it was the four of us. At some point we had a guy named Jay from upstate Connecticut join the band, but that was quite short-lived as well. I think that was kind of right at the end. I can seriously barely remember.

Later in the game, after we recorded the 7" with Doug, he was losing alot of enthusiasm for the band and was doing a lot of snowboarding. He would disappear up to Vermont for long stints, so we asked Ben Smith to join the band to replace Doug. Ben went in and re-recorded the vocals on the 7", and then in a crazy pressing mix up, Doug's original vocals ended up getting pressed. In the long run, I think it is pretty awesome, because it was him who deserved to have his voice onthe record after being in the band for so long.

What are your memories of recording the Pressure Release demos?

The original P.R. demo was recorded at a place called "The Music Box"on the Lower East Side. I was like 15 years old and it was totally freezing and we were walking around with our guitar cases past all these shanty towns and feeling like we were going to get jumped at any second. All I remember about the recording of that demo was how damn fast it was done, and that we put way too much reverb on the vocals.

The second demo we did was at Don Fury. I think we did a song called"I Try" or something like that? I can't even remember!!! But we were much more proud of these songs. They had the sound we originally wanted. Very gritty hardcore. That was a fun day. Don Fury at that time was like hardcore central. That was where you went if you wanted to record.

The Anthrax seemed to have been your homebase. What are your favorite memories of having played there? What about other bands you saw there...20 years later, what jumps out?

I can honestly say I saw hundreds of shows there. Everything from the Circle Jerks to the Cro-Mags to YOT to Fugazi (before Guy even sang in the band) to Mind Over Four, etc. The list literally goes on forever. If a band toured, it came through that place, and we were there both nights on most every single weekend. It was truly an amazing time.

After the X Marks tracks, the band began to progress a bit by the time the New Breed tracks were recorded, which you already hit on.What was exactly going on in the band as you got further into 1988 and towards 1989?

Well, sort of covered this before, but essentially Alex and I were the ones writing the songs, and we had just gotten really into different music. We were listening to less traditional stuff. I think we really just wanted to make a record that caught people off guard. I think right around that time Absolution was on the scene and we loved how dark their sound was. We really wanted to create complex arrangements, not your typical hardcore songs. We also loved the "And Justice For All" record by Metallica, we loved how it felt like this one long song, like an opera. We wanted to try to achieve that.

For the seven inch, we went to Staten Island to this really tricked out studio that Alex found that gave us a really good price. We played him the Cro-Mags DEMO (not the record) and said "we want it to have this sound." It was this really compressed sound we loved.

At first the studio engineer/owner guy was sort of confused by our style of music, but I remember him being really impressed how buttoned up we were. Alex and I had everything really thought out. By the end, the engineer guy was quite into it.

Similarly, you obviously progressed as a guitar player...was this natural, or were you really trying to differentiate yourself from standard power chord playing?

Yeah...I just remember sitting in my bedroom with a double tape deck recording ideas for guitar solos, experimenting with layers and harmonies etc. We just thought it would be awesome to have lots of guitar solos, both the "ripping" type as well as the more melodic type. I was a pretty good guitar player so we figured we put it to use. We thought it could be interesting.

Lyrically, Alex was writing all the lyrics. I dont think I wrote a word. He was writing seriously dark stuff. About isolation, and introspection, and about girls. He was discovering sort of the dark side of girls and sex etc. At the time, it was really quite different than what people would write about in hardcore.



SFader said...

What a coincidence. I was just talking to my friends about the 7" yesterday. Thanks for this, that record is such a TRIP, I mean it's really fricken weird! When I first heard it our crew of dudes in HB always wondered about why it was so dark and strange, but at the same time REALLY good. And how a record like that could be associated with sxe and New Age. In CA they weren't well known, so nobody knew anything. I've been meaning to email Hartsfield about it, now I don't have to. Awesome. Now I'm gonna have to convert to CD.

Scott Frosch said...

Great interview, keep it comin'.

I love that 7". Moreso now than when it first came out.


Anonymous said...

Please! Try to come out with a small cd Discography its due...The demo rules!!!

gaohui said...

If ordering from an online ed hardy Clothing store, she should either have tried ed hardy sale the garment on in a store somewhere ed hardy or she had better be buying ed hardy UK from a vendor with a great return ed hardy cheap policy. Buying from an ed hardy Clothes online vendor has its risks and ed hardy store they should be understood. The upside is that online stores christian audigier sale tend to have a large selection ed hardy dresses of clothing to choose from. The ed hardy Polos bad news is they can be more ed hardy sandals expensive, or the cost of shipping and handling ed hardy Jackets can offset any cost savings she might have enjoyed.