In First Person Interview
Heavy, emotional and intense - an interview with the hardcore beast In First Person
Thick, heavy, emotionally intense hardcore from members of The Assistant, You and I, This Ship Will Sink, and A Petal Fallen. The lyrics, sung by all three members, question and challenge the lack of trust we have in each other, and the music is a fitting accompaniment to that theme. Dense, layered guitars, a deep, driving bass, and intricate yet powerful drums set the stage for these crushingly intense and earth moving songs. The sound is dark, foreboding, and oh-so satisfying.
Can you present yourself and your band In First Person? When did you get together, why choose the name In First Person and what are your achievements since you started the band?
My name is Tom Schlatter and I’m 30 years old.
I started In First Person in the summer of 2005 with Vanessa Espinal on drums and Jake Stultz on the other guitar. At that point we had no bass player. Benn Roe joined the band as our bassist in the winter of 2006 and Jake left soon after. Benn played with us up until the fall of 2007 which is when Rob Ross joined the band and began playing bass for us. We’ve released an LP/CD called “lost between hands held tight”, a split LP with another band called Storm the Bastille, a split 7” with another band called Titan, and also a few compilations affiliated with different animal rights organizations. We haven’t done much touring since our lives are pretty packed right now with school, work and family priorities.
It will be very interesting for me to know more about your projects before In First Person. Especially because The Assistant was one of my favorite bands. Also I know you’re playing in a new band called Black Kites and you’re going on tour very soon… Are any of the other two members of In First Person involved in any other bands or other interesting activities?
Before IFP I played in the following bands: Sevin, Instil, You and I, The Assistant and This Ship Will Sink. There were a few others along the way, but these were the more long-lived bands.
I started playing in hardcore bands when I was 15 and basically have not had any period of time over the past 15 years where I haven’t been playing in a band. I joined Sevin when I was 16. They were already established but they wanted a second guitar player. I was vegetarian and straight edge and I think they asked me based on that. I couldn’t really play guitar all that well at that point and the music was foreign to me. It was more along the lines of the mid 90s open E chug bands, whereas, at that time I was pretty much exclusively listening to older bands like Youth of Today and Uniform Choice. I went vegan shortly after joining the band and have been ever since. It was weird because the other guys in the band were older than me, but we ended up doing a tour with Abnegation later that year. There I was, 16 on tour for the first time. Sevin broke up in the fall of 1995, though a 7” was released months after. I was asked to join Instil while I was still playing in Sevin. Instil was more or less an “emo” band at that time and resembled bands like Endpoint, Falling Forward and Empathy. Playing in Instil opened up the hardcore scene even more to me because we were travelling out of state to play shows and meeting more people. We ended putting out a 7” and a split 12” with another band called Grey Before My Eyes. Instil ended in the fall of 1996.
Justin Hock, Jon Marinari and I started You and I after that. I was 17 years old at the time. You and I was more or less a combination of all the music we loved. We wanted to take a band like Converge and mix it with a band like Indian Summer. At that point the scene was polarized in that you didn’t really have bands mixing genres like that. I think some people were confused when we did this. The band is a good representation of where I was at the time. Meaning, when you are 17 your view of the world is very self-involved. This is natural and I’m glad I’ve documented it in such a way. We ended up putting out 4 records and touring twice. We played our last show in May of 1999.
The Assistant came after You and I. We started this band when I was 20 years old. I wanted to do something very blatantly political. We went into starting this band with a very blunt attitude. We took as many genres of music as we could and mashed them together. We tried to be as clear about our political stance as we could. At this point I was a pretty angry person, in terms of my reaction to the constant forms of racism, sexism and homophobia I saw in the hardcore scene. I’m still angered by it today, but I’ve learned to approach it more productively. In the days of The Assistant I was really looking for confrontation all the time. We talked quite a bit between songs and this bothered people. Again, I’m glad I have this band to document that particular time of my life so well. We got to tour a whole bunch, including going to Europe and put out a few records. Best of all I got to do this band my wife (she did vocals for the band) and we experienced all these new places together.
This Ship Will Sink pretty much started right after The Assistant. We only lasted a year but got to put out 3 records and do a full United States tour. This was the first band I started where I decided to play through three amps and forgo getting a bassist or second guitarist. I’m currently also playing in a band called Black Kites. We are a vegan/veg straight edge band. This band is highly influenced by some of my favorite 90’s hardcore like 108, Deadguy, Threadbare, etc. We are leaving for tour in a few days and have an LP coming out soon.
In the lyrics of The Assistant’s song Be Nice To Me I Had A Rough Day you write “Each day I wake is a chance that I can change. Each breath that I breathe tells me that I am alive. I will try to wake up with a smile on my face.”, are you a positive person? What motivates/angers/frustrates you? Are you still trying to wake up with a smile on your face and what’s the difference between the lyrical themes you touch in IFP compared to the other bands you have been involved in?
Those lyrics are a good reflection of where I was at back then. My wife and I talked about this the other day actually. Back then I felt that the hardcore scene was alive and vibrant. There were a lot of bands I was excited about that were saying great stuff and writing great songs. I felt invested in the hardcore scene and it took up about 95% of my life. Back then I was working shitty jobs and quitting them to go on tour. I wasn’t confronting many of my own psychological issues because the hardcore scene was like an opiate. I felt so great playing those shows and meeting all those people.
I think those lyrics were about staying positive, but also just investing myself in things that were positive. I wouldn’t say today that I’m a positive person per say. I try to be and I would like to be, but I am completely frustrated with many of the things that are happening right now. At times I think that my life would be totally care-free if I had not found the hardcore scene and been exposed to politics and veganism. Many people my age are buying flat screen televisions, working high paying jobs and spending time at bars. That life seems so easy, but is also seems pretty unfulfilling. Around the time I started writing for IFP my life was falling apart. The songs on those records pretty much convey that. I lost my job, lost my house, confronted my mother about my father’s physical abuse, lost some friends, and had a host other bad stuff all happen. I’ve slowly put things back together, but as always, experiences will change you. My priorities about being in a band are different now, in that I’ve realized how I can’t depend on music solely for my happiness. I have to build some exterior networks outside of music to maintain a healthy mental state.
What are some motivating factors that inspire you to write new songs? What are some important issues within and outside the band? Are there some certain social/political issues that are important for you to touch in your lyrics or feel passionate about?
Lately I’ve been writing songs based on my observation of social and political events within the United States. Most recently I’ve written songs about immigration, the U.S. electoral system, organized religion and America’s increasing dependence on the pharmaceutical industry. I’m involved at home with a group called the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee (NJCRDC) and we’ve been recently doing demonstrations at the local courthouse over the fact that our county is currently incarcerating upwards of 200 people for being “illegal”. That is, they are incarcerated for not being American citizens. Many of the people being incarcerated are from Mexico and have come to work here, mainly holding jobs in the food service and labor industries and sometimes being paid below the mandated minimum wage. It’s strange to me that there is no penalty for the businesses hiring illegal labor and paying substandard wages, there are only penalties for those trying to make a living while not being citizens.
I’ve got a CD compilation called “Open The Cages: Free Your Mind”, which is a benefit CD in support of the SHAC7 campaign and In First Person is participating with a song among a lot of vegan hardcore bands from all around the world. Could you speak more about the SHAC7 case, the AETA act, “Green Scare” term and the public opinion about the animal rights movement in the USA? Are there any imprisoned activists from New Jersey and what can you do to support them, except making CDs containing angry music with lyrics about burning labs and slaughterhouses?
The SHAC7 case is unique in that it’s not just about a case for or against animal rights. It’s a clear example of the U.S. government’s abuse of the patriot act to constantly monitor and regulate any progressive movement. Many people refer to the “post 9/11 America” when looking at these cases because the tactics and laws put into place now are much more aggressive and evasive. The AETA act is one of these tactics and basically opens up the floor to call anyone involved in activism a “terrorist”. The Green Scare, as I have observed, seems to be the counter movement to sway public opinion against ecological activism. It’s a media campaign to paint all activism concerning the environment as “un-American” in some ridiculous sense that doesn’t really connect the dots. In the United States the Green Scare has garnered much support from the Republican base, including the fundamentalist Christian base that claims the environment is not a problem because it is the “will of god”.
Darius of the SHAC7 is a resident of NJ and was released last year after serving 85% of his sentence. When he got out he contacted me and we talked about his experience in prison. He said it was easy to do the time because of all the support that he saw flooding in from all around the world. People were contacting him internationally and voicing concern and support. It was a perspective I had not considered would come from him after doing time in prison, it was inspiring. That being said, letter writing is important, just in terms of psychological support. If you go to shac7.com you can click on each members profile and find out what their interests are. They would probably love to get a letter from someone discussing different interests and things like that since you are not really allowed to discuss the actual case in detail through mail. Next month in New Jersey Black Kites will be playing an all day benefit show for the SHAC7, we hope to raise a good amount of money to help pay for legal fees.
Which are the most important reasons for you to be a vegan? What was the crucial argument for you to go vegan? Do you support the abolitionist views on veganism?
I stopped eating meat when I was 15. I was working at a restaurant as a cook and one day was asked to prepare tripe. Tripe is the lining of a cow’s stomach and used in Italian dishes as a garnish. As I unravelled the tripe the smell hit my nose and I almost threw up. It was the size of a large bed sheet. We had to cut it into smaller pieces, which took about an hour. I couldn’t get the smell off of my hands and was sick the rest of the day. The next day I decided to go vegetarian. It took me three months to give up meat totally. I read into veganism and started hanging with people who were vegan. Once I saw how easy it actually was I committed to it. I took me one day to cut out eggs and dairy products.
The most important reason for me to go vegan is the ethical standpoint. I don’t want to partake in the killing of an animal, and if I can help it I would like to live a completely cruelty free lifestyle. Abolitionist veganism is something that is new to me, but many of the concepts are familiar. I see speceisism as harmful and the superiority complex of human beings is responsible for much of the environmental disaster that we are facing right now. However, I feel that there are so many changes to be made that the only way to implement such changes are incrementally. I find it hard to believe that we can get everyone to see the oppression and exploitation of animals when there are still people who don’t see the destructive oppression against other human beings (ie, in the forms of racism, sexism and homophobia). I don’t have all the answers, I don’t think anyone does. The circumstances of people’s situations have to be considered. For instance, is someone living in poverty and exploitation going to be particular about what food they can find? In the long term there would be more food in a 100% vegan world, however, for right now, what is a person in a dire situation supposed to choose? I feel that I am privileged in the fact that I can choose what I do and do not want to eat. I can go to any grocery store, walk through 24 aisles of food and choose what I want. Not everyone has that luxury.
Here in Bulgaria when you say you’re vegan, the most likely question the people may ask you is what the hell are you eating then? So do you really enjoy cooking and what have you been eating lately?
I cook all the time and enjoy it quite a bit. Lately I’ve gotten into American Southern Cuisine. Some of the foods are collard greens, black eyed peas, corn bread, barbecue tempeh and others. I also love eating Mediterranean food like humus, babahganoush, tabouli, falafel and grape leaves.
You’re also straight edge. What influenced your choice to become straight edge? Is straight edge for you some form of a social protest? Watching straight edge people drinking Coca-Cola products, wearing Nike etc. I can’t see how they could be part of a nonconformist and countercultural underground scene and keep the DIY ethics of hardcore/punk.
I started claiming straight edge when I was 15. At that point I was in school and many of my friends started experimenting with drugs. I live 45 minutes for New York City so drugs were easily accessible. This was also during the rise of the rave scene and many of my friends were going to clubs and embarking on what became known as the “club kid” lifestyle. I opted not to participate and ultimately lost a lot of friends. Many were ravaged by the lifestyle and it seemed generally unattractive. Straight edge has a social protest element in it, in that I feel I am making an informed choice about what corporations are trying to sell me.
The products they sell (tobacco, alcohol) are harmful to my body, however the advertising campaigns strive to make us believe that life will be so much better if we partake in these things. It’s another way of being an informed consumer. Similar to what you’re saying, if you are aware of a company like Coca-Cola or Nike acting in an unethical way you generally don’t want to be a part of the deception. I think that correlation between athletic companies like Nike and the straight edge culture come from the late 90’s New York Hardcore scene, in which that style and aesthetic was most pronounced. If people want to go that route, it’s their choice, but I feel that an aesthetic is unimportant compared the concepts behind the idea of straight edge.
There’s a female participation in the band, your drummer is a girl. Does she influence a lot of women within the scene to be more active and engage themselves in the scene after seeing her drumming? How can we engage more women in the scene? Do you have a lot of female friends, living in your area, that not only are going to shows, but organizing events, booking tours, running record labels, taking photos, writing zines, playing in bands…
We actually talked about this at our last show. IFP definitely gets more support from the female crowd due to the fact that Vanessa plays drums. Sometimes, it’s not even about the music, women just like the representation that Vanessa provides in a scene that is usually dominated by men. I’m not sure if women are influenced to be more active by her presence or not. For the most part men are not surprised to see her playing with us at all. I think in the mid 90s people would have been surprised, but not today. The odd thing that Vanessa has experiences is at times, a lack of support from some women. This seems to come from a competitive nature that mirrors the mainstream in which women are divided and competing for attention from men. Women who buy into this notion see Vanessa as garnering the most attention because she is in such a high profile position. It’s unfortunate that some women buy into this. I have female friends who are playing in bands, but not as many as male though. I think the biggest and most frustrating obstacle is just the vernacular and behavior of men in the hardcore scene and how it often mirrors that of the mainstream.
What bands have been influenced you the most? I think you’re more into the mid-90s vegan sxe bands, or I’m wrong? Have you been involved in the vegan sxe scene at that time? Do you listen to a lot of bands from other continents and places than North America?
When I first got into hardcore in 1993 I was mostly listening to bands like Bold, Youth of Today, Minor Threat and Uniform Choice. These bands were natural extension of the fast punk that I first got into through skateboarding. By 1995 I was playing in Sevin and around for a large part of the vegan straight edge scene of that time. Though, I leaned more toward what would later be called the “ebullition” style of straight edge bands like Groundwork and Frail. I liked the varied political subject matter and dirtier sound of these bands. The most influential bands to me though would have to be 108, Groundwork, Endeavor and Converge. What those bands were doing in the 90s pretty much set the pace for me. Currently I listen to bands from all over. My favorite international band would have be Zann from Germany. Verdict from Russia is amazing too.
In First Person can be described as a screamo band and I think it’s influenced by such emotional hardcore bands like You&I, Pg.99, Majority Rule, Shotmaker, Orchid, City of Caterpillar etc. But recently the mainstream media has stolen the terms screamo and emo from the DIY scene and for a lot of people emotional hardcore means some MTV bands like Fall Out Boy or Thursday, whos members actually came from the original hardcore/punk scene. Do you feel that creating your own music, packaging, zines etc. with passion in a strictly DIY manner and presenting your own truth in an underground scene of likeminded alternative looking kids is the only way to call yourself hardcore. Or these people and bands on the major labels and mainstream media like the guys from Fall Out Boy still have the right to use such terms as punk, emo, screamo…
The You and I influence is obvious since I was in You and I. As for some of the other more notable “screamo” bands, I am a fan of Majority Rule and Orchid. The thing is, when we started You and I there was no one calling us “screamo”. There was no aesthetic of kids wearing tight black pants and having silly haircuts. We were just a band playing what we liked and the other bands were doing the same. I didn’t really see a move to the “screamo” aesthetic, at least on the east coast, until 1998 or 1999. This is when, in my opinion, the fashion element of hardcore got really big. In 1999 I moved in with Geoff Rickley from Thursday.
We lived together in New Brunswick and did shows at our house. I would not have considered Thursday a part of any “screamo” scene at that point and I don’t think they ever really considered themselves as such. I think the mainstream media and their record label put them in that box for marketing reasons. Regardless, they’ve made a career of their music so it’s not really a representation of what happens in the hardcore/punk scene.
I don’t demonize them for this choice mostly because I don’t think they try to front as if they’re still a part of the hardcore scene. In regards to major label artists, they do have a little more integrity than most. I think media’s hijacking of “emo” or “screamo” (or whatever you want to call it) just encourages people in the hardcore scene to push the envelope further. If we want to remain outside of the mainstream then we constantly have to push ourselves to come up with ways of doing things that aren’t hijacked in the mainstream. This can be in regard to the style of music we are playing or in regard to how we do things (keeping things DIY).
What do you think about the electing of Barrack Obama as the president of the United States? How do you think America will change in the next few years?
In terms of symbolism, I think it’s a strong statement about the United States that we’ve finally gotten to a point were an African American could be elected president. This doesn’t symbolize the end of racism by any stretch, but it’s an accomplishment for a country that had segregated restaurants 50 years ago. In terms of the substance though, I’m not sure what direction things will go. Barack’s cabinet selections have been alarming, as he’s appointed some very conservative folks to high positions. As of now a huge issue in the United States is the economy. The real estate market here went through a huge boom beginning in 2004. Brokers, real estate firms and banks were making a killing off of high priced homes and high interest loans. It was a recipe for disaster and this past year things fell apart. Rates went so high that so many people could not make their payments. Throw record high gas prices on top of that and every just fell apart. I hope there can be a lesson learned here, but for some reason I feel the administration will side with the corporate interests rather than crack down on regulating the deception and manipulation of money lending.
At the moment all the Bulgarian troops are coming back from Iraq. How do you see the future of the American imperialism with Obama as a head of the state? How can you comment the recent case with the Iraqi journalist throwing shoes at Bush in Baghdad?
The media coverage of Iraq in the United States has been completely one-sided. All the media coverage portrays Iraq as being glad to have U.S. troops there. We really have to dig deeper to uncover the fact that this is not the case. In the case of the journalist throwing the shoe, the media here portrayed the man as crazy and Bush as “handling the incident well”. I’m uncertain as to what the United States forces future will hold there. During election time Obama had claimed to have a plan to bring every troop home saying that he denounced the war from the beginning. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if he makes good on this promise. In terms of imperialism, I think things will stay the same. I don’t see Obama making huge strides to improve the ethics of how American corporations are exploiting labor globally.
At the IFP’s myspace profile you say that general interests include comic books, LUSH handmade cosmetics and watching “Lost”. Let’s hear more about these and some other interesting habits, addictions or funny stories connected to the individuals in IFP… Also why does the bass player has so huge beard?
We are generally a laid back group of people. We’re all pretty much into things like science fiction and comic books. Benn and I used to do math problems in the car when we had long drives. That’s about as rowdy as we get. Benn and Rob both have huge beards. This is kind of a coincidence. I suppose shaving is just time consuming and wasteful. 14. What’s next for IFP and your other projects? IFP will be recording 5 songs for a 10” on Protagonist Records in January 2009. We hope to have it out in the Spring. Black Kites leaves for tour next week. Our LP is at the pressing plant right now and will be out this winter on Ride The Fury Records. I also play drums for an indie rock band with my wife and some friends called Disarmor. We just recorded a demo.
Anything else you want to add?
Thanks for getting in touch, it’s been a pleasure answering these questions.