an interview w/ Rival Schools (Walter & Sammy) (part 1)
by Black Bubblegum
DOWNLOAD: Rival Schools – “Take One For The Team” (MP3)
“So yeah, I draw the line at Quicksand”. – Walter
Walter Schreifels. Sam Siegler. Two names of a very select few who defined a sound and a movement in the late 80s and early 90s, New York Hardcore. Building upon the zen-like teachings of prophets with names like HR, MacKaye, and Raybeez, Walter Schreifels and Sammy Siegler cut their teeth in the blooming NYC scene with the legendary Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, and Judge, as well as Side By Side, and Project X.
Quicksand and CIV, as well as MTV support, multiple LPs and music videos followed, culminating in the reunion of the two Youth of Today bandmates in Rival Schools. Sam and Walter formed the band in 1999, with their lone LP United By Fate coming in 2001. The band split the following year, scrapping existing recordings that were believed to be the basis of the new album. Six years passed, and Walking Concert, Nightmare of You, Head Automatica, and solo work followed until early 2008, when Rival Schools announced their reformation. The announcement was followed by festival dates in Europe, ultimately leading to a handful of US shows.
Which leads us to NYC… The band have lined up a pair of shows at Maxwells and Mercury Lounge in early November which sold out quickly, but the band have also agreed to headline the free BrooklynVegan day party at Knitting Factory on Oct 25th! In part one of their first joint interview ever, we poked and prodded Sammy and Walter about their past & present projects, the old days, and blow-up dolls…
So how did the Rival Schools reunion come about?
Walter Schreifels: We have been kind of talking about getting back together, or really continuing on from the work that we had done, for like years. We did some rehearsals like maybe a year and a half or two years ago, and then we did some demos and we have been taking these baby steps. Earlier in the year Sam just said “Hey dude, lets play some fucking shows and shit’s gonna happen”.
Sam Siegler: Something was coming up… maybe our window of time was closing. It’s interesting that when you put your energy into something that you do get it back and if you make an effort, definitely at a certain point, someone’s going to have to notice.
I know you guys have four new songs that you debuted over in Europe. Do you have anything else waiting in the wings? Are any of those songs part of the unreleased stuff that leaked from previous sessions?
Walter: To get started, we went “OK, we are going to go out and play live”. We definitely have a lot of stuff, some completed, some that has gotten on to the internet, and other things that haven’t. So we kind of got started by looking at those things as a first step to integrating some new stuff into the set. Since we played that tour, we definitely got the feedback we needed and have been writing fresh stuff ever since. It’s kind of like what Sam was saying about putting it out there… getting up and playing the songs that people wanted to hear, playing some other songs that we’ve had but have never really played live, and working up to a modern form. And now we got new shit.
Rival Schools LIVE @ The Bottom Of The Hill, 10/12/08 (barkmrandi)
What’s the possibility of a new record? Is there an idea about who you want to helm the record? Would you helm it?
Walter: I think I would rather have someone else do it… it would be nice to have a third party to have that back and forth. Ian [Love, Rival Schools guitarist] does recordings and we’ve recorded with him a lot and it’s pretty consistent… we know what we’re gonna get, and it doesn’t give Ian the chance to just be a band guy. I think it would be more fun to have that outside perspective, as much as it’s cool to have control over everything. We’re gonna see. I mean for starters, we’re working up the material and getting these shows under our belt. We played over in Europe, we’re heading out to the West Coast, and we’re gonna play the East Coast and then kinda get our feeling for all the places that we’d play. Then hopefully we’ll have a more obvious route for what the label situation is going to be and so on
So you’re leaving it open for more touring?
Sammy: I think we’re kind of into momentum and wanting to sort of exist and make this stuff really happen, as opposed to being stuck in this world of waiting for this person to get some money, or try and get this producer, etc. I mean there are some great producers that are out there that would be wonderful to work with, but some of it is contingent on getting money and all this other shit. We’re hoping for the best, and there is also the other plan, and that is to just exist and to play. These days there are a lot of options.
Walter Schriefels Live at UCB on Oct 17, 2008
So Walter, as far as some of the songwriting… are these songs collaborative efforts between you and Ian, or are you handling most of the songwriting duties?
Walter: I guess most of the collaboration, outside of the stuff that we have already written, has been going on because Sam and I have been jamming. We’ve been getting the guts of some of these new songs together because Cache is living out west and Ian’s been very occupied with his new studio and hasn’t been able to come around much lately. We kinda came up with something that’s fresh in the studio just the other day… Sam said “Here’s something cool, I think this beat would be really exciting” and then we took that and it became a new song. Some of the other stuff has been stuff that I’ve been demo-ing on my own and Sam and I have been arranging it and working it into something. I think that when all the other guys get there and we’re all in the same room, it’s gonna take one step, and then when we play it live, we’re gonna take another until I think we’ll be in a position to record it. By then it’ll be something completely different
Sammy: I think we’re kind of in a lucky position to go back and listen to some these demos and some of the stuff that never made it onto the album and say “oh shit that was really good” or “that chorus was good”. So that’s fun, but it’s also nice to just write something on the spot or have something that’s more current and when we all get to playing it, it becomes our thing.
Walter: The thing for Rival Schools is that we’ve established this name and this album that’s held its place over time. It’s a great way that we can do new music and push forward and continue to build on. That’s very exciting and futuristic to me. Its fun to play acoustic guitar or play “Hold Your Ground” and all that, but it’s another thing to be in a good band that has a lot of dynamics. We can play heavy shit if we want… we have a lot of directions to go with Rival Schools.
Gorilla Biscuits (CIV), Live at Liskfest 2008 (Kevin Baldes)
So speaking of “Hold Your Ground”… a few questions about Gorilla Biscuits. Originally, the Gorilla Biscuits reunion came about because of the “Save CBGBs” movement and the need to draw that awareness. I know that Gorilla Biscuits has Liskfest lined up, and Rival Schools and a solo Walter will be at that show as well. That said, what are your thoughts about touring more with GB?
Walter: Even the Liskfest was… well once GB played CBGBs it kinda became a really slippery slope in that “Well we did it, so why should we not do it”. I mean, there’s a limit to it because there are just these two albums and really not much moving forward with that. I would say that the guy who is running the Liskfest is a totally good friend of ours and kind of put it to us like “You have to do it”. He’s flying everybody out, it’s gonna be [was] this big fun BBQ, and everybody really wanted to do it, so I think that’s OK. It’s gonna be fun and it’s gonna be great. Beyond that, there’s really no place go with it except for playing that kind of a thing, which is really fun…. But, we’re kind of running out of world to play. But between GB and Rival Schools at the Liskfest, and the fact that I am doing an acoustic show… creatively, I am getting it from all different sides.
So earlier this year, there was a confirmed report that Gorilla Biscuits were playing the Black & Blue Bowl at Studio B. That report was promptly retracted. What exactly was the deal with that show?
Walter: That’s politics man, that’s how shit works but…. No way man. I hated those things then. I mean I don’t want to discredit the festival or anything. I’m not taking a shot at it but… I think…. Didn’t CIV play it?
(Walter looks at Sammy)
Sammy: Yeah he did. I was there.
Yeah, but it was actually billed as CIV and Gorilla Biscuits.
Walter: I guess they were like “CIV‘s playing.. (yelling) HE WAS IN GORILLA BISCUITS”
Sammy: (yelling) CIV WAS IN GORILLA BISCUITS. CIV‘s PLAYING. GORILLA BISCUITS ARE PLAYING.
Walter: (yelling) CIV‘s PLAYING. CIV‘s PLAYING GORILLA BISCUITS. GORILLA BISCUITS ARE PLAYING.
So just to clarify, you had nothing…
Sammy Siegler on stage
But Sammy you definitely were involved in that show… how was it? Do you think you could ever see CIV heading back out on the road or anything?
Sammy: It was great. I think the good thing with CIV is… we’re all great friends and since we own our masters, we’ve been kinda stupid in that we haven’t made it available. Since we broke up in 1999, our music has been out in any kind of organized way… digitally or anything. So I think we might put together a discography and just package it up really nice… we’ve got tons of content and photos… b-sides and videos. I think when that comes out, we will probably have an opportunity to do some shows, nothing on the level of a full tour or anything, but it could be fun.
So Sammy, I know that you recently left Nightmare of You, and are involved in Head Automatica with Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw… What’s the status of the new Head Automatica record?
Sammy: I am about to track another batch of songs that are the last batch…. We’re getting close to finishing it with the guys called The Brothers in Brooklyn and it’s been a little more programmed… digital based… Also, been working on some other stuff out in California that’s a little more live basically, but still dance based. Daryl’s been really taking his time to try and write songs and weave through it… We started in November so it’s kinda taken some time, but he’s focused and it’s gonna be a good record.
So you are obviously doing live drums on the record, but are you doing programming as well?
Sammy: It was interesting working with The Brothers… I think they did a !!! record and stuff and it’s kinda cool. I went in one day and tracked a song and the tracks were kind of chopped up and my tracks were kind of gone. As a drummer it’s somewhat frustrating, but at the same time it’s kind of exciting because those guys are sort of artists in their own respect and they have a vision. I’ve made a lot of rock records, so it’s kind of fun to do something different. Another time they had some programmed stuff that I played on top of, and they keep fills and keep certain things and chop some things up. I think it’s a good experiment that’s paying off.
It’s kind of fascinating to hear a live drummer’s perspective on being sampled…
Sammy: I just have to surrender a little bit to the process. It’s been a fun record, trying to figure out what’s good for Head Automatica and how can we pull from all these influences and still keep it Head Automatica. Also how do you push forward and do it in a cool way that’s kinda not played out and unique.
Walter… why the move to Berlin? Change of scenery thing?
Walter: A number of things, certainly a change of scenery. Creative juices and life experience. I was in a position where I could make enough money playing acoustic gigs. It’s gotten more expensive because of the dollar going down, but it’s a really beautiful town and it’s really cheap to live there and it’s near everything in Europe. I really like that.
So what are your thoughts on NYC, from a creative standpoint anyway? Although NYC has quite a few bands, and always will, another bunch of them have moved on to places like Europe, but also to Philadelphia, Portland, etc…
Walter: New York is kinda fucked, dude. It’s very expensive to live here. If you want to do something creative and you’re not making a certain amount of money at it, you’re constantly going to be stressed by the fact that your rent is really high or you are living with a bunch of roommates or whatever that circumstance is. I don’t think the city is as nice as it once was for that kind of thing, and living in Berlin, it’s a huge contrast. No one’s really making any money or they’re unemployed, but they’ve got a studio they’re making their art… their doing their own thing. Some of them will succeed in a larger way, but for the most part, people do those things because they enjoy doing them. This city is not as conducive as it once was, although it’s great to be around so much competition and bustle because people are working really hard here. But I appreciate the creativity in Berlin. I think it’s a nice atmosphere for that kind of stuff, but I also enjoy being in a foreign place and seeing how other people see things to get a perspective of New York and the United States from the outside. I think a lot of people would like to do that but don’t get the chance, and I think I just went “fuck it”. You know?
In retrospect, do you think the move has invigorated your creativity? I mean, just living in Berlin and being involved with German art…
Walter: I have made a lot of friends in Berlin, so I had a pretty good inside view of what was going on there. I have been hanging out with the top people making music over there, in the indie rock world. I got into why German people like their music and the way people do things. Why German people recycle. Why they don’t cross the street unless it says to… all those kind of little things. You can drink a beer in the street, smoke a cigarette on the train. All those things kind of remind me of New York when I was growing up… it was way more free. Anyone who has changed cities will tell you, especially if you are trying to channel life experience into something creative, it’ll do it. Even if you hate it, you could come up with this bleak sound. Berlin is very free city but it’s not all gumdrops and chocolate waterfalls. It’s got it’s downsides, being that you are foreign.
Did you speak German?
Walter: I just had some phrases, but living there I definitely got a lot more understanding and comprehension. I definitely understand more in conversation
The whole immersion thing…
Sammy: I know he’s always kind of dug it too, I know when we were there with Youth of Today in 89, he would kind of pick up the words and…
Walter: Yeah I was into it. It’s interesting. It was easy for me to get right in to the culture over there. And we played a role, Sam and I going over there with YOT, because when we went over, we were one of the first bands from NYC. I think we were the first band to play and we played like 60 shows.
Sammy: The promoter was based in Bremen and the bulk of the two and a half month tour was in Germany. I recently looked at the poster… We played so many little towns.
Walter: We played like every little fuckin’ town in Germany and that was when the scene there was very transformational because now hardcore practically exists there way more than it does here. I have kind of learned that bands like YOT and GB that came over early, really planted a seed in the punk scene over there. It’s huge there, and similar to here, it’s interesting to talk to people who will come up to you and say “I saw you at the VFW in Buffalo and now I am working at MTV” and in Germany it’s like that too.
Youth Of Today in the Ray, Porcell, Sammy, Walter incarnation
It’s obvious that the early days of hardcore, especially in the New York scene, were incestuous at best. I mean Walter, you played a role in two of the genre’s most pivotal bands and Sammy, you played in what seems like every hardcore band from that period. That said, are there any projects that never got out of the practice space? Maybe something that you worked on but realized that the chemistry wasn’t there?
Sammy: One of the coolest projects that never existed was a band that never made it past the flyer, called Double Team. It had Walter’s brother Dylan and my friend Chris Burr singing and it was going to be a hardcore band with two singers.
Walt: And a blow-up fuck doll.
Sammy: Yeah, a hardcore band with two singers. Luke Abbey was going to play guitar and I forgot who was going to play bass, but it would have been a cool band. I also did a project with Mark Ryan (Supertouch) singing and Davide Gentile (Orange 9MM). Davide, who owned the studio, came in and needed an ADAT at the time and must have recorded over it on accident.
Wow. That’s an interesting combo…Walter in an Aftertaste-era Helmet.
Walter: It was alright, but we were all into different things and it just didn’t take shape into anything. That could have been cool. You know sometimes you can put Eddie Van Halen and Robert Plant and Yngwie Malmsteen and it won’t come together.
Because there’s no chemistry…
Sammy: You can put Kool Keith, Kirk Hammett, and Dave Lombardo in a room… who knows what you’re gonna get?
Walter: That would be pretty fucking cool actually.
Sammy: Fuckinnnnn Kool G Rap, Bjork, and fuckinnn…
Walter: That’s a great fit too!
So continuing with that thought of bands that never really made it…. as far as the NYHC scene was concerned, back then anyway, who do you think really never got their due?
Sammy: I think Altercation were the best unsung band from back then.
Flyer from 1987 (Hardcore Show Flyers)
Who was in Altercation?
Sammy: They were insane… the demo was great. That was the record that should have been made. There was talk of Schism releasing an Altercation album at one point.
Walter: The goodness of Altercation ended up filtered into Warzone… the very first Warzone record. But for my money, as much as Warzone was fine on their own, I think Altercation were the best and I don’t think that if you listen to their demo now it makes the same sense. Maybe it does, I gotta listen to it again.
Sammy: Warzone was a fascinating band in the sense that they had lineups and the music stayed really strong and kinda changed. The first Warzone EP was insane.
Walter: Altercation were so amazing that they scared me. They were so good but so evil and fucked up. There was a second there when I thought the dark side just might win. Altercation were fucking awesome Brooklyn skinhead metal… it was the first time I ever heard metal techniques in hardcore, like a proper guitar squeal. Biohazard probably capitalized on their spirit, but say what you will about them, I think that Altercation was about a million times better.
Sammy: Another thing that existed, or actually should have existed is, I had a video camera really early on and me and a bunch of friends started to make a straight edge movie. It was fucking amazing… Raybeez was acting in it! It’s just genius and it’s gone.
Walter: Some of the scenes from it were so good…. The famous one is Arthur just wiping out and his bass skipping along the pavement.
I would imagine that would also hold a ton of sentimental value as well. So we have seen the reformation of Gorilla Biscuits and Rival Schools, but what about Quicksand?
Walter: We actually reunited pretty soon after we had broken up and it didn’t really work. I think that thing is best left in its own little world. Well, you know I’m doing my solo stuff… I have my acoustic guitar. Other than the fact that I love playing with other musicians, Rival Schools gives me that chance to be in a rock band… so I don’t need to be in Quicksand.
Well I know that you have perform a few of those songs at your solo gigs.
Walter: Well, I feel like it is something that I can draw upon as opposed to physically putting the band back together. It’s a lot to do that anyway. So yeah, I draw the line at Quicksand.
Sammy: But Project X is getting back together!
(All laughing, Sammy is obviously joking)
Walter: That is TOTALLY happening….
Sammy: That’s fair game! On the table!
Look for Part Two of this interview, coming soon!
RIVAL SCHOOLS – 2008 TOUR DATES
Oct 25 The Knitting Factory New York, New York (5pm, free) *
Nov 3 The Khyber Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Nov 4 Maxwell’s Hoboken, New Jersey**
Nov 5 The Ottobar Baltimore, Maryland
Nov 6 Mercury Lounge New York, New York**
Nov 8 Fun Fun Fun Fest! Austin, Texas***
Feb 21 Soundwave Festival Brisbane
Feb 22 Soundwave Festival Sydney
Feb 27 Soundwave Festival Melbourne
Feb 28 Soundwave Festival Adelaide
Mar 2 Soundwave Festival Perth
* w/ Akimbo, Trap Them, Vreid, Starfucker, The Carps, Little Boots, Shout Out Out Out, Marnie Stern, Made Out of Babies, Rival Schools
** w/ Innaway, The King Left
*** w/ Many Many bands… Lineup here.