Q&A w/ The Faith on upcoming live album from 1981 CBGB show with Bad Brains (stream a track)
DC hardcore legends The Faith are releasing a live album that was recorded in December 1981 at NYC's iconic CBGB's, opening for Bad Brains. It's due September 18 via Outer Battery Records (pre-order), comes with new liner notes by the band, and photos by Glen E Friedman, whose work you may recognize from the album covers for Minor Threat's Salad Days EP, Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Beastie Boys' Check Your Head. Guy Picciotto (who would later form Rites of Spring and then Fugazi) traveled with The Faith from DC to NYC for the show, and he says, "The Faith were one of the best live bands DC ever produced. Having been there, I can confidently say that their show with the Bad Brains at CBGB’s was the best concert happening anywhere on planet earth that night, nothing else could have come close."
We're premiering a stream of "It's Time," which would later appear on the legendary Faith/Void split, and even in this early, raw, live form, you can hear how fantastic of a band The Faith were. The recording rips, and it's a real treat that it's finally seeing the light of day.
We also spoke to vocalist Alec MacKaye (also of Untouchables, Ignition, and more), guitarist Michael Hampton (also of State of Alert, Embrace, One Last Wish, and more), and drummer Ivor Hanson (also of Embrace and more) about this live album, sharing the stage with Bad Brains, CBGB memories, Kurt Cobain singing their praises, and more. Listen to the new song and read on for our chat...
These recordings have obviously existed for decades - what made you finally decide to give them an official release now?
Michael: I was having a drink with John Pastore (Outer Battery Records) and we were talking about HardCore (as you do) and what shows we saw etc. I mentioned that I had recently been digitizing my cassettes - one of which was a fantastic board tape I had of the Bad Brains at CBGB’s in 1981, and oh yeah, the Faith also played and that was on the other side of the tape, John said damn, I can’t do a Bad Brains live record (no doubt) but I can do the Faith! (or words to that effect)
Alec: I guess it took a long time to realize that the chaos of our early gigs might be a good thing to let interested people hear and technology became refined enough that time could be spent getting the sound quality strong and consistent enough without breaking the non-existent bank.
Guy Piciotto said this show "was the best concert happening anywhere on planet earth that night." What made this particular gig so special?
Michael: Any show that involved Bad Brains at their peak was always the “best concert on planet earth.”
Alec: There was no evidence to the contrary.
As far as I know, it really was the best concert anywhere on the planet that night. We came to play – to rip that joint and do our thing the best way we knew how. There was a strange new audience that we, being from DC, could interact with and do it with abandon (at least as far as I was concerned). And we had journeyed there to do it. That always heightens things – when you’re a teenage punk rocker back then, actually arriving at your destination is an achievement. The quest, the arrival and the unified conquest is everything. I don’t know about Guy – but that’s how I operated when it came to shows.
Ivor: For me, three things made this show special: That we were playing at CB’s, an amazing club; that, moreover, we were playing with Bad Brains, an incredible band; that this was only our third show. It was a I-kind-of-can’t-believe-this-is-happening adventure.
Do you remember anything you'd like to share about watching Bad Brains' set that night?
Michael: The Bad Bains were so good, it’s kind of hard to describe. We showed up with NO equipment and asked the Bad Brains to use their stuff. Huh? What were we thinking? I used HR’s guitar and amp. HR’s guitar? yup. Bad Brains had a 2 guitar thing going on a couple of songs. That was memorable.
Alec: Watching them working on “We Will Not” during sound check and thinking it was the most direct impact, blunt-force truth hammer I had ever heard. It filled my chest and head and made me want to go out and make the living shit out of something, to be creative in spite of, and therefore because of, the forces that might stand in my way. That impact/impression lasts and I bet if I go upstairs right now and play that song on the stereo – I’ll feel it just the same way. And their set was pretty much a tidal wave on fire, elemental, Bad Brains style.
Ivor: Whenever I saw Bad Brains, I would always focus on Earl since he’s simply one of the best drummers ever. He’s fluid, he’s intense, he’s tight, he’s…I could go on and on. Anyway, that night like at most any Bad Brains show, the crowd was all over the place, all over the stage, and Earl, as always, played away, calm as ever even as he worked at inciting the crowd. So cool.
CBGB's needs no introduction, but hearing stories about the venue from the people who helped shape its history never gets old. What's one of your favorite memories about playing there?
Michael: I think the biggest thing about it for us is that it seemed so pro. Legendary reputation, great sound, a lighting guy that told us he would “burn our asses” with the hot lights etc. We were high school students, a bit out of our depth. CBGB was the big time for us, despite the condition of the “restroom”. We met Glen E. Friedman and the Beastie Boys that night too which was cool.
Ivor: Not just hearing, but feeling just how good the club’s sound was while onstage sound-checking. The band, any band, sounded powerful, important, worldbeating.
- There was a cheap residential hotel next door with some kind of royal sounding name, like The Palace Hotel or something. Its doorway was filled with a pile of trash about two feet high and sticking out I saw a dirty t-shirt. I thought it would make the perfect NYC souvenir, so I grabbed it wrapped it up and later when I washed it out, discovered it was a Picasso line drawing of the head of a woman. I wore that shirt for years.
- I did not hold as much reverence for the place as Michael and Ivor, I’m afraid. I recall walking in, being surprised at how long the space was. I’d only seen pictures of bands on stage and had never thought about the rest of the club. I remember scanning the space, thinking of how I could make it all mine. The sound man, who was running the lights, had no time for us, in that New York kind of way (though he could have been a sound engineering student from Topeka or something – I am certain that had “outsider’s complex” coursing through me) and I recall quickly getting on his bad side, as if there was ever a chance we might get on his good side, being a bunch of kids, with no understanding of professional stage craft. He punished us with hot lights on full blast during our set.
- The backstage scene was insane. So many people there that had no idea who was playing – true scenesters, there to see each other, not the music. The dressing room was theirs to do the things they like to do and we were allowed to hang out in it if we wanted to. I recall us giving out a lot of fake names and phone numbers.
We're premiering the recording of "It's Time," which became the opening track on the Faith/Void split, which has gone on to be considered hugely influential and was famously named by Kurt Cobain as one of his favorite albums of all time. Did you expect people to still be talking about it 30 years later? How have you reacted to all the continued praise for it from newer generations of musicians?
Michael: I am constantly amazed that people are still interested in our HIGH SCHOOL BAND almost 40 years later. It is so cool to hear about how musicians were influenced by that record, hard for me to believe actually.
Ivor: In a word: no. In a few more: Not at all. I think that, along the way, we came to know the band was doing some good things. But, really, we were more concerned about sorting out the next song, the next show, and feeling lucky to get into the studio. We weren’t superstars like, say, Minor Threat or Bad Brains, just part of the DC scene. Of course, I’m all for the band’s resonance, feeling lucky, and humbled, and amazed by the attention and regard. But still: it was just us. You know?
Alec: I never really thought about people beyond the DC beltway hearing or reacting to our music. I was pretty shocked as it got more attention and we started getting letters from far away.
As great a musician as he was, and as legendary as Kurt has become, I still think of him as a peer in some ways, so his inclusion of Faith/Void on a mixed tape that he loved made sense to me. But upon his ascension, everything he touched became sanctified, I suppose. I’m glad he liked our record, I sure like his and I wish I could still see him play.
I really like seeing the de-contextualization of Faith/Void. People re-approaching it as a concept piece, naming art exhibitions, bands, songs after it. It’s got long legs in the wild.
Anything else you'd like to add about "It's Time" or the 'Live at CBGB's' album in general?
Michael: The riff for “It’s Time” started out as a very slow rock instrumental called “open” penned by myself in the eighth grade. Influenced by local hot shot kid band Silent Thunder’s song “Opening” (featuring Brian Baker on guitar). See what I did there? Anyway a couple of years later the riff became a bit faster, a chorus was added, and it became “Black To Red,” an unreleased S.O.A. song - It was the first song The Faith started working on in the fall of 1981 - now called “It’s Time” with lyrics by Alec. One of the few songs Chris didn’t write the lyrics for as I recall.
As for the Live at CBGB's album - it is a document of a time and place, super punk, and a little weird to listen to. I have great memories of the show, being 16 etc. etc. But it’s NOT for the casual listener! (Interest in obscure US HardCore a plus)
Ivor: “It’s Time” is one of the first songs the band learned and I’ve always liked that double tap on the snare and it will always remind me of practicing in the basement of Michael’s parents’ house.
As for the Live at CBGB’s album, one of my favorite moments takes place when during the course of this totally raw, totally aggressive set of punk rock, Alec politely asks for a Coke between songs.
Stay tuned for Live at CBGB's to drop on September 18 and pre-order it here.