Born Against: The Remaining Underground Should Stop Being So Boring
Sam McPheeters of Born Against interviewed for RIOT Fanzine in 1991
Sam McPheeters of Born Against is an icon of the American DIY hardcore punk culture. During the late 80’s and 90’s he was a running the Vermiform Records label and was an important zinester with his Dear Jesus and Error fanzine, he was also a contributor to zines such as Maximum RocknRoll (MRR) and Punk Planet. He has also contributed to various projects in many other ways but what makes him and Born Against among the most important figures in the International hardcore punk community is that Sam has always been a loudmouth whose not afraid to sir up the trouble and speak their mind in an uncompromising way.
In the summer of 1991 Born Against were Sam (vocals), Adam (guitar), Javier (bass) and John (drums). The interview appeared in RIOT Fanzine #5.
How long have Born Against been playing together and what motivated you to start the band? Which bands/events have influenced you and what bands are you into at the moment?
Born Against was created in the fall of 1988 after Adam’s band Life’s Blood imploded in a self-destructive orgy or stupidity and wanton violence. The guiding idea behind Born Against was to create a band with the unrestrained sound of Battalion of Saints or Raw Power, but with the political and lyrical edge of Ignition or Articles of Faith… both ideas that had been all but vanquished from the NY hardcore scene, with its new values of musical maturity and rock progression, by late 1988. Our first show was in New York City on April 29, 1989. Since then we’ve played 106 times in 35 states and 2 Canadian provinces, had 5 drummers and 3 bass players. Right now Adam and I would still probably tell you that Ignition, Dead Kennedys and AOF remain the prime inspirations in how we present the band. Other stuff we’ve all been listening to lately: Superchunk, The Clash, Jawbox (Adam), Neurosis, Moss Icon, Infest (Bret, our new bassist), Pleasant Valley Children, Nation of Ulysses, Stretchheads (Sam). God knows what the fuck our drummer Jon listens to.
What do you think about the demise of vinyl and the ever increasing popularity of CDs? As you run your own record label (Vermiform) you probably have strong feelings on this? What advice would you give to anyone in the punk/hc scene who was planning on putting a record out?
I’m still curious as to how far the dlscontinuatlon of vinyl is going to go. For example, the last vinyl pressing plant closed in Japan just last year, forcing smaller Japanese punk bands to either A) put out flexis (which generally eat sound quality) B) press records in other countries (I’m going to assume that doesn’t just mean simple trip over to Korea or China, either) or C) wait until a large record label picks them up and puts out their CD. This could be happening in the US and Europe, although I’m more inclined to say that at least a few vinyl plants will be around by the end of the decade, if for no other reason then because they’ll be considered a novelty. I’m not philosophically opposed to CDs as a concept (we’ll start putting them out as soon as Born Against has enough material to throw on one – like several LPs worth of music for $7), I just hate the price gouging that accompanies them. As far as my advice to people putting out records, my main offering would be to just make sure that you know the people in the bands whose records you’ll be releasing well. I’ve had several bad encounters with various Vermiform artists who demanded huge buckets of cash for non-existent royalties from records that lost me lots of money in the first place.
Born Against seem pretty notorious as mouthing off about other hardcore bands, on their dodgy doings, and whilst I think that’s commendable, d’you think that people can all too easily start rumours about bands just by writing to MRR by saying, “I dunno, Sam McPheeters barbecued my cat and burned my house down” or something?
Yeah, definitely. We’ve tried to bypass that problem by being as honest as we can be about our dealings in fanzine interviews, and when we talk to people at out of town shows. We’ve also advertised to our adversaries that – between MRR columns, fanzine writings and band interviews – we have access to a pretty large podium with which to defend ourselves.
In the interview with Kent McClard in No Answers #10, you said that if Vermiform generates a lot of money that you’ll help other bands to put out their music. Can you elaborate on this? Are you just gonna put out records on your label, or go for the distribution thing or what? Has Vermiform made any dough!?
Vermiform has already worked with non-local bands and we’ve got a huge backlog of stuff to put, mostly West Coast bands. We’ve also subsidized several local labels and helped out local labels with their distribution. We still have a lot of work to do before our distribution problems get hammered out. Right now Vermiform is losing money, but we should have a bunch of the bugs ironed out soon.
What are the future plans of Born Against (if any)? Are you gonna tour the UK and Europe or what?
Tour the United States in February ’92, come back home for a one week break, tour Europe in March and early April. Come back home, work on a new album, start to suck, then REALLY suck, then put out a few more bad albums, then break up, then hold a few reunion shows and milk this whole thing so fucking badly what we can all pay for our expensive houses and large families. Whooopie!
Where do you see hardcore heading? Is it just get more and more stagnant and polarized (eg grindcore, sXe, political punk, etc?)
Personally, I think the next few years are going to see more polarization of the underground community versus the aboveground, counterfeit “alternative” structure. Last week Nirvana pushed Michael Jackson out of the number one album slot on the American charts, meaning that for the next several years we’re going to see a bloodthirsty courtship of “indie” bands by the largest of the largest labels… like Atlantic and David Geffen Company. Right now there are Revelation bands negotiating contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars with these companies! This kind of big label scoop – like with rap bands five years ago or new wave bands fifteen years ago – translates into more big arena concerts, like the Lollapalooza tour in this country, which translates into more and more young people being siphoned off the genuine punk scene to the fake punk scene, buying all the appropriate fashions and accessories along the way. Hopefully this will force the remaining underground bands and fanzines and participants to get off their asses and STOP BEING SO BORING. At least I sure hope that’s what it means.
Have you got anything else you wanna say, questions to ask me or whatever? Thanks Sam!!!
We’re all really curious as to what kind of a response we’re going to meet in Europe. When I was in England in the fall of 1990 I was pretty disappointed that the only crazy looking people to be found were on the postcards at Gatwick Airport, and all the political graffiti I saw when I had visited with my parents 7 years earlier had been replaced by stupid “New York Style” subway graffiti. Hopefully we can help convey the message that American culture doesn’t have to be the standard by which the Europeans gauge their own culture, and that bands as powerful as CCM, BGK or Discharge can still be created by non-Americans…
P.S. On yer bike, Maggie! Oi!!!!!