an interview with Walter Schreifels & Sammy Siegler of Youth of Today, ahead of their reunion at This Is Hardcore
by Fred Pessaro
Philly’s This Is Hardcore festival just announced its 2016 lineup, which includes reunions from Youth of Today and Turning Point (with guest vocalists paying tribute to Skip), plus Gorilla Biscuits, Integrity, Burn, Floorpunch, Strife, Ringworm and more. We caught up with Youth of Today members Walter Schreifels (also in the current GB lineup) and Sammy Siegler (whose new band World Be Free are also playing TIHC) ahead of the reunion to discuss their return to the band, memories from the road, playing for Nazis, and the existence of showtunes in hardcore. Seriously.
By 1988, New York Hardcore greats Youth of Today seemed pretty much done. Ray Cappo had left for spiritual pursuits in India and Porcell had moved on to Judge, Project X, and more. But soon thereafter, Youth of Today came back bigger and stronger, looping in a baby-faced Sammy Siegler and NYHC veteran Walter Schreifels from Warzone. To many, this is the definitive lineup of the classic NYHC band, and one that solidified their place in punk history. See records like We’re Not In This Alone and Disengage for further reference… or maybe I mean reverence. At This is Hardcore 2016, the lineup of Cappo/Porcell/Schreifels/Siegler returns for the first time since 1990.
Read the interview below, followed by the full TIHC lineup…
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BV: Can you chart your history with YOT, following the original break?
SAM SIEGLER: Following that break, I was involved in a YOT reunion in 2006 maybe, where we got together in Pennsylvania and played a show for Jamie Jasta, who was the promoter. Tim Bold was on bass, with Ray & Porcell. The venue ended up being too small and so we played a second show. There was some issue with getting paid or something, that’s all I remember.
A few years later, I got a call from Ken Olden who said he knew a promoter in Europe that wanted Youth of Today. Ken, myself, Ray, and Porcell, were involved, and again Walter was doing his own thing. The shows were great; it was a good run except I needed to be in NYC for a show with Rival Schools at the end of the tour. Unfortunately, that was never relayed to the promoter, who ended up booking Milan and I wasn’t on drums. Ken Olden played and Graham Land played bass. I was a little annoyed by that.
Then there was talk about South America and a little bit later I saw it was confirmed and was told “we’re not doing that one with you.” [Ed note: later shows with this lineup included Chaos in Tejas and a previous version of This is Hardcore.]
What are your thoughts on the lineup changes over the years and how you fit in?
SS: At the end of the day, Ray & Porcell is Youth of Today. I think there is something special about this lineup though, with Walter and myself. That tour in 1989 around Disengage was such a crazy tour, two and half months in Europe, playing squats… that was one of the wildest times.
Those guys can make their own decisions, so whatever their reasoning to do it on their own is up to them. I don’t hold any grudges. Ray is the kind of guy who would grab a few Swedish kids and go on tour as Shelter. That’s just how it works.
WALTER SCHREIFELS: Not to disparage any of the other lineups but to me, we (YOT with Sammy and Walter) were the band. We toured the world. We were the main stable lineup that toured Europe. It seems kind of crazy to me that Gorilla Biscuits would have this resurgence when Youth of Today was the best live band for sure. I think the appeal of the records is so powerful and affecting, but live was a whole other thing.
Youth of Today toured the country and Europe before any NYC band. It had to do with the popularity and its iconography, but also because Ray’s super DIY can-do attitude was picked up on by a lot of people. Any city where there were a core group of people who were familiar were getting their minds blown by the live show, and then the periphery of people who were newly like “what the fuck.” We were bringing that outside of NYC more than any other NYC band.
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Isn’t there something ridiculous about playing in a band with that name? Obviously the legacy is untouchable.
WS: I totally get it. What about “We’re Youth of Today, Today and we’re STILL not in this alone.” (laughing)
I’m playing with YOT because these guys are my life long friends and HC is the culture that I came up in, how I learned to be in a band and what it took to be great at it. YOT is the best live band I’ve ever played in or seen, and the fact that we’re all alive, healthy and have continued on the path that initially brought us all together is sort of miraculous to me. Given the opportunity of playing a big stage like Groezrock to communicate the YOT message to a new generation of youth is a blessing that I’m down to accept and enjoy.
What are your thoughts on the current resurgence of these classic bands?
SS: Some of these bands age really well. Gorilla Biscuits has aged well. Judge aged well. I feel like Youth of Today has not because the recordings aren’t the best recordings. Start Today is a great record, but We’re Not in This Alone is kind of a trainwreck. Youth of Today is the kind of band you had to see live in order to get chills.
I kind of always had this thing where I wanted to close out Youth of Today with some justice. I’m a huge fan. Walter’s down. Ray’s in great shape and Porcell is pretty much the same as when I met him. My goal with this is to do it right.
Ray Cappo in his prime was untouchable. There would be hostile crowds and he could go into attack mode or just a “let’s be friends and love each other” mode, either way he just brought it. I never got into Hare Krishna, but to have the power to convert a shitload of people to straight-edge and then to convert a shitload of people to Hare Krishna and then to parlay all of that into being this yoga rock star that the NY Times writes about…. he’s just got this certain thing that commands your attention. I’m as much of a fan as I am happy to be a part of it.
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Any memorable stories from those early tours?
WS: I remember being in Belgium and playing in front of straight up Nazis –I remember these dudes being in their late 20s, grown men with swastika tattoos on their necks. And Cappo did not change his approach for them, just going at these dudes. He would go straight at them and we were thinking “we are going to get our asses kicked.” Somehow, Ray was able to be true to that message and not cower.
In the South, we would play in front of Nazis all the time –people would see the shaved head and hear the name and think we were Nazis. That fist looks like a Nazi thing if you put a couple extra hooks on the X. Ray would never let them confuse it though –he’d never wimp out. So he had this MLK-like power within the scene. He believes what he’s into intensely. I think if you interviewed Zach De La Rocha he’d tell you that he got many many plays out of Ray’s book.
So where did the idea for this lineup come from?
SS: I’m good at sort of pushing these kind of things. An offer for a show came in last year and Ray was busy and Walter was committed to some things so we pushed to this year. Then a Groezrock offer came in and we decided to go for it.
Walter said “I don’t want the funny happy Ray, I want the pissed and focused Ray.” The world needs Youth of Today, and I’m confident he’ll bring it. I need Youth of Today more in my life now more so than I did then. I need to be around two yogis, positive thinking, and straight-edge now more than ever.
Those recordings never really captured Youth of Today live– we can do those songs better and we’re tighter.
But you were a baby when you played those songs…
SS: I blame the engineer a little bit too. We were paying no money and recording at Chung King, because we thought that was the way to do it. We’d get all the interns and have different engineers on different days. One day the engineer told me “I lost your snare drum last night, I didn’t really record it properly. Do you mind overdubbing your snare drum?” So I was in a room just hitting the snare drum with no click track or anything. And then another day might pass and I would be asked to record the floor tom again. It’s just… shaky.
The recording sound was raw, of the time, and messy… in some ways charmingly so.
WS: They were dealing with a bunch of teenagers and since Ray was pretty much the boss of the situation, he didn’t give a shit about that side of it. He saw the important factor be that it was completed and that he sang on it, and he sang so well that it just sold it. I would have definitely scrapped it and started again, but it taught me the lesson of don’t sweat the small stuff.
SS: The funny thing is Cappo’s vocals are just perfect and recorded all in one day. Going into the mosh part on that song “Choose to Be,” Ray fainted– he just did this crazy scream and fell to the ground. Ray really took Youth of Today to another level not only with his performance, but with lyrics too. He was really into theater music, actually.
Like what… Rogers and Hammerstein?
SS: Yeah. He had this Pippin cassette that he would play a bunch. I feel like Youth of Today had this theatrical element to it because of his interest in theater music.
That’s funny because now that you say it, I definitely hear that. Sort of the way that really intense vocals appear in certain songs, like the opening to “Slow Down” and the existence of gang vocals in general. And even on “Flame Still Burns”… how the instruments cut out and he screams “We’re Back!” It’s so dramatic.
WS: Ray definitely knew a lot about Broadway and it comes out in the songwriting– how to create these dramatic moments. It’s nothing that you specifically learn, but something that you are around and becomes part of you. “A Time We’ll Remember” is a big one. If you think about it, that gives a totally different idea to the gang vocal too.
Ray was into all sorts of crazy stuff. The first time I ever heard of Arthur Lee’s Love was through Ray. He was into the Partridge Family and all this kind of weird shit that he probably inherited from his older brothers and sisters.
One thing I’ve always wondered about is you (Sammy) being a touring musician before you were even a teenager. What was that like with the family? Being 13 and going on tour.
SS: My family was cool. My house was sort of the “everyone is welcome here” sort of house. I think that’s largely why I was allowed to do all of this shit. My mom knew Porcell and Ray really well and knew what the bands and the people were all about. Her thing was that she thought we could get into more trouble if we were on the football team in school than being with these guys.
My dad is a drummer so he was supportive too. My dad would come to shows, take me to the old Ritz and CBGBs when I need a chaperone. They just kind of got off on it. Looking back on it, it’s pretty fucking wild. As a parent now, I’d like to be that supportive, but it’s hard to say.
Ray was sort of like dad / camp counselor / big brother. Holding it down. He had a certain level of expectation about what we were going to do as a band, he was striving for something better and higher. At the time I didn’t totally recognize it or appreciate it as much, but looking back it’s cool that he had a vision.
Tell me about World Be Free, and sort of “starting over” as a fresh new band.
SS: It’s awesome doing a new band because it’s a fresh slate and a whole new thing, so that’s really cool. I feel like kids are going to like it and we’ll have some opportunities to play. World Be Free kind of happened out of the blue… I’m 42 and I wasn’t looking to start a Minor Threat / GB / Uniform Choice style band but it came together really well. Scott brought it. I didn’t hear the vocals until he recorded them.
The future is open with World Be Free.