I Talked to Strife's Andrew Kline about Pro-Core, Crank Calls, and Bad Recordings
The 90s were a weird time for hardcore. Most first wave bands were long gone, the second wave was fading out and opening up cafes and shit, and then you had a new crop of bands that well... didn’t really sound like hardcore. That’s actually a good thing: It would have been really fucking boring if there were a hundred more bands referencing Negative Approach or sucking at being Bad Brains. Things splintered off into all these weird factions with strange rules: Hardline, riot Grrrl, DIY, queercore, screamo, and something we’ll call "pro-core." You see, even in the mid-90s it wasn’t like every band with a twelve-inch was touring, most of them didn’t, and if they did you might miss the basement or health food store show they played for $5.
There was another tier to hardcore, maybe not the major leagues, but definitely a world that took itself more seriously. They weren’t sloppily screening shirts and appropriating logos from library books of classic woodcut illustrations. Pro-Core was a continuation of the foundation Sick of It All, Cro-Mags, and Agnostic Front laid out. This was made famous in the Born Against versus Sick of It All debate on WNYU’s Crucial Chaos, where Born Against and friends rallied against “big business hardcore” and bashed the bands on In Effect. Well, no one really cares about that shit anymore, even the detractors on the show admit it was dumb, meanwhile Sick of It All is probably playing some part of the globe right now, while a guy from Manumission is making artisinal cheese or some shit.
Tony Victory saw how the larger labels in hardcore operated and applied that to Victory Records. OK, I don’t know what the fuck they do now, probably some Atreyu offshoot, but when they released Earth Crisis, Snapcase, and Strife records in the early 90s, things changed really quick. Tony put money into the bands, distribution, and booking. To sell records, bands needed to tour, and many of his bands toured regularly. Strife quickly went from some high school bros with two seven-inches out to playing festivals in South America with Sepultura. Strife and many of the bands on Victory and Revelation established the network and model that pretty much every band uses today, and they got a lot of shit for it. People said they were rock stars because they had good equipment and guarantees, and hated that they actually made some money. Weird right? Luckily, people aren’t so rude anymore, and the recently reformed Strife can tour, release new music, and have fun without Steven Inkblot handing out anti-capitalist-core flyers at their shows.
Anyway, in hopes that someone out there still cares about this stuff, I called up Andrew Kline from Strife to pick his brain about all this shit.
NOISEY: How did you meet other hardcore kids and form Strife in the sunny burb of Thousand Oaks, CA?
Andrew Kline: When I was 14, there were a few kids into hardcore in my high school. I was a little skater kid, and into punk. We’d skate outside my friend Jesse’s house. Our original drummer Sid was his neighbor, he was two years older than me and moved from Riverside where he had been playing in a thrashy crossover band called S.D.I. (Society Defeated by Ignorance). They had played with Agnostic Front and D.R.I. We met right away when he moved to town.
My older next door neighbor was an old punk guy who was about ten years older than me that had an amazing record collection. I’d go over once or twice a week, take five or 10 records home and dub them onto cassette. He had everything from FUs, The Freeze, Operation Ivy, Negative Approach, he had a few thousand records. That’s what introduced me to the New York Hardcore sound, I really liked the harder sound of those bands. As a kid you could go into a record store and easily find C.O.C. or The Misfits, but finding those more obscure bands really inspired me.
There was a venue called the Country Club about thirty minutes from our town that held about 1200 people. Bad Religion, Insted, Sick of It All, even Prince played there. None of us drove, but we had a few older friends who would drive us to the shows, or you’d convince your sister to drop you off there. We met Rick in line waiting to see Bad Religion. Rick started talking to us, because there were so few straight edge kids then, especially at a Bad Religion show. We found out he was from one town over from us and we became friends. He drove so he’d come out and hang out all the time.
Originally the band started with Sid and Rick with another guitar player. He was an amazing guitarist but really flakey. They only practiced with him a few times, but he was unreliable, I remember being in Sid’s bedroom where they practiced and the guitarist never showed up. Sid asked me to jam with him, I had taken a few lessons and could barely play guitar, but had never even played with a drummer before. We ended up writing a bunch of parts that ended up becoming “Dedication” and “Question Mark.” Eventually we started jamming at a teen center in our town that had a band room and recorded a demo in 1991.
The early 90s was pretty transitional. You had the old guard winding down, and a ton of new bands sounding like anything from death metal to bad grunge popping up in the hardcore scene
We came in at the tail end of the Youth Crew thing, when all those bands were breaking up. We got to see Judge and Gorilla Biscuits, but those were their last tours. I was only 14-years-old, they could have sounded like shit, but I was just excited to be there. We saw them all, then they were just gone, it wasn’t like we were waiting for them to tour again. We loved all those bands, but we were really inspired by the new crop of bands coming up.
The Country Club would also do Monday night shows, and they were always bombs. The first one I heard of was Gorilla Biscuits and Swiz, there were only 75 people there in a 1200-capacity room. We saw Infest there to 50 people. One that was really memorable was seeing Chain of Strength, End to End, and a new band that only had a demo out called Outspoken. We were really inspired by Outspoken because of their energy and vibe, it was a lot different because they were younger and really giving their everything, that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted that energy and that spark that we saw in Chain of Strength and Outspoken was a continuation of that.
It’s insane how many great bands never even played out of state, even in the 90s, Strife had a reputation for being road dogs though.
There are so many bands from the East Coast that never toured, Turning Point and Burn never made it to California, even Madball. They were touring Europe for years before they even played one show in Los Angeles. We’d be touring in Europe in the mid-90s and kids would be asking us if we knew who Merauder were, because they had toured there extensively, but we didn’t know much about them because they never played California.
Pre-internet it was just a different. We’d read zines and Maximumrockandroll, trying to get information and find out about what records to buy, but you knew if you mail ordered a record it was going to take 2 to 6 months to get to your house, if at all. I never mail ordered records because I didn’t want to wait, we’d convince someone to drive us to Zed Records in Long Beach and that was an hour and half hour drive from our house. You’d save up your money, you’d convince someone to drive you, then you’d have $18 to spend on records. When I look at my record collection, it’s all seven-inches, but I’d save up money with an allowance that was probably $5 a week, and instead of spending it on two LPs, I’d buy six seven-inches. Then you’d take them home, listen to them over and over, read the thank you list, study the lyrics. It was such a different experience than how music is presented to you now. People are trying to give you their music now, you don’t sit with a record like you did then. I’d play one record repeatedly because I might not have enough money to get another one for a month.
When you have a fixed amount of money, it changes how you listen to music. Even records that sucked, I’d play a hundred times trying to like them.
There’s stuff that I look at now in my collection that I think sucks, but at 14 everything was pretty cool to me. I’d pick out records based on the artwork, I went to Bleeker Bob’s on Melrose right when the Chain of Strength seven-inch came out, but it was on the wall for $10. That was more than I had ever paid for a single record ever. It looked so cool to me and I wanted it so bad, there was something about that cover that drew me in. Sometimes you’d buy something just because it was on a label you liked, like buying the Grave Goods record just because it’s on Wishingwell. You would just connect to things a different way, it didn’t matter if the drummer was good or the recording sucked, you weren’t being critical--in your head you actually make the album better.
After releasing two seven-inches you came to the East Coast for the first time. I remember everyone going insane at your Boston show, an older dude waiting in line to use the bathroom asked me when it became 1988 again
The first time we came to the East Coast in 1993, we had a seven-inch on New Age in 1992. Dave Mandel did the other seven-inch in 1992, then we had tracks on two compilations, It’s For Life and Victory Records Only The Strong, those tracks really established our sound and style. You could see our direction and what kind of band we were. We felt it was a real throwback to that late-80s New York hardcore sound, and at the time people weren’t really doing it. There were Lifetime, Endpoint, and even Up Front, experimenting with more melodic music. It was refreshing to some people to hear some straight forward fast hardcore.
We flew out in 1993 while I was still in high school to play three shows. The first one was in Boston at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church with Rorschach, Mouthpiece, Four Walls Falling, and Endpoint. The second show was at Middlesex College in New Jersey, it wasn’t even a fest but it was pretty much every 90s band on one bill. It was an insane show from the first band to the last band, we met a ton of people at that show that became life-long friends and it was instrumental in shaping our band and what we’d become. The last show was in Syracuse with Mouthpiece, and that was it.
At that time we got a letter from Metal Blade records off the strength of the song on the Victory comp. This guy recently messaged me on Facebook saying he wanted to book Strife in Las Vegas, and I thought his name was really familiar, he reminded me that in the 90s he worked for Metal Blade and wanted to sign us. What a different path it would have all been if we signed to them instead of Victory.
One Truth was a big sounding record for the time. That as a big deal because you either had bands intentionally settling on shitty recordings, or bad metal sounding records because the engineer was some coked out rocker that didn’t know what hardcore even was.
We just reissued our first demo on Indecision records, it’s the 20th anniversary of the label. Inside there’s a ten page booklet that gives the history of the band and there’s a part where I talk about the studio where we recorded, I don’t even know the real name of it, but we called it Elbow Studios. Everyone adopted that name. I was just talking from Rob from Unbroken about this because he thought that was really the name. The engineer there had this little naked kid that would run around who would slam his dick in a book the whole time. It was really weird, he had this weird kink in his dick. We thought it looked like an elbow and the name stuck. I don’t even know how who found that studio, it was in Simi Valley a town away from us, but Outspoken, Mean Season, and Unbroken all recorded there; all terrible, terrible, recordings. We had no idea though, this studio was in a dude’s living room with a naked kid running around.
The first band to record there was Unbroken, we should have known not to record there after hearing that seven-inch, but nope, then Mean Season, should have known after that, nope. Outspoken should have went running after hearing those two, but they did their LP there too. When we did One Truth in 1994, we found this weird studio off Hollywood Boulevard, that was actually underground. You had to go in an alley, go down some steps into this dark basement. The producer was a metal guy named Dave Jagosz who just knew how to produce and it was a good recording at the time. That really set a bar and put us steps ahead of so many other bands, because it was hard to capture a recording like that. We’d get there at noon and be in a basement for hours and it would be morning, we’d lose track of time.
When we went to mix we had to operate the board manually, there would be all four of us on the board using faders, adjusting levels. If one person did something out of sequence or two early, we’d have to do it all over... it would take all night to mix one song. We’d leave the studio at 8AM sometimes.
Once the debut LP came out, it seemed like you were perpetually touring, most hardcore bands barely did summer tours then.
Once we signed to Victory they had an in-house booking agency, so we never actually had to sit down and call people to book a tour. I could have booked us a few random shows, but I couldn’t have routed a full tour. We went out with Earth Crisis and Snapcase, right before Snapcase’s and our album came out, but our next tour was with Sick of It All; I couldn’t believe it. Their agent booked the Scratch The Surface tour, we got the dates and just showed up. They were a band that was a huge part of our success, it was the first real US tour we did in 1995, halfway through the tour our album came out. Right after that they took us to Europe and they’re one of the biggest bands there to this day. We were lucky that we didn’t have to play to 50 kids in a squat, we got a built in fan base because of them.
After that we got a booking agent and continued to tour. We went out again with Earth Crisis after that and it was booked by Tim Borror, now he books Danzig, Suicidal Tendencies, and other big bands, but at the time the routing was all over the place. We’d have ten hour drives between shows, then have to circle back a day later. Shows were cancelled or weren’t promoted. We ended up firing him after the tour. Without the internet, there was no network set up, you couldn’t Map Quest anything, you were at the mercy of the guy booking your tour. You’d just get in our van, buy a map, get into the town and try to figure out how to find the club.
We had a show in Syracuse in the middle of the winter, we were super lost and pulled into town with no idea how to find the Lost Horizon. There was six feet of snow, no cell phones, and we found a gas station that had a pay phone that I had to dig out just to call the club to get directions. Sure we had a booking agent, but they weren’t completely sure what most of these clubs were either. It wasn’t like you were looking up a venue’s website to see what it was like.
First generation punk bands love to go on about how hard touring was early on, but it’s not like it was super easy in the 90s either. Punk and hardcore had kind of died, and you still would have that random show at a dive in the midwest where dudes wanted to kill you.
There weren’t even a lot of venues that wanted to book punk or hardcore bands, so if a kid wanted to book a show, he’s not going to the nice club in town. Those clubs didn’t want a bunch of kids fighting or doing graffiti, so instead you end up in a VFW Hall, a skatepark, a barn, a biker bar, somewhere that just wants a cut of the door. Now real promoters see the financial gain of booking a hardcore band and they do it seven days a week, you’re a lot less likely to play string of basement shows now. Strife, Snapcase, Lifetime, and Earth Crisis played Josh Grabelle’s basement in New Jersey, it probably held only 75 people.
In the 90s the only club that would even book hardcore shows in Los Angeles was a Mexican cultural center run by some punk kids called the Macondo. It was cool watching it grow, eventually having multiple shows a week, because the bills were always diverse. You’d have Strife and Supertouch, we’d play with Still Life, Los Crudos played, Born Against, Bikini Kill, it was a non-profit venue so the bands would get the majority of the money, it was more about the music and art than making a profit.
An anti-Strife shirt recently popped up on eBay, what’s the backstory on that one?
That was 1997, we were touring on In This Defiance, doing around four US tours a year. If you watch the One Truth video, you can see that all those shows were jam packed with no one able to move, between 500-700 kids. In the 90s everyone was trying to be ultra politically correct. You had the ABC No Rio scene on the East Coast and the Ebullition scene on the West Coast, everyone was quick to point fingers at bands on bigger labels, or bands that had guarantees. We’d get in arguments with kids just about us getting paid. I’d say to them, “Look, if there are 400 kids here and it’s a $10 show, that means there’s $4,000 on the table. Who should get that money: the band, the venue, or the promoter? Obviously there’s costs involved, so let’s say you give $2,000 to the venue, that leaves another $2,000. Who should get that money?” People didn’t understand that a touring band should get paid, not that we wanted to get paid, we needed it in order to continue touring.
In Atlanta, on that same tour, we got into an argument with a kid at our show who I will name because it’s funny knowing what he’s doing now. The kid was Mike Phyte/Mowery he came to the show, and said, “Why do you have this guarantee?”
We explained to him, we had to rent a van, we had a U-Haul for our equipment, we had roadies, we had to get a hotel, and we had to eat.
Then he said, “Why do you have a U-Haul?”
We told him our equipment didn’t fit in a van and he said that Chokehold didn’t tour with with big equipment, they just tour with practice amps. He would rather a band tour with combo amps and sound terrible, than bring their gear and sound professional. He just didn’t get it. I remember Sid getting so man, he wanted to punch him, he’d get so frustrated and snap. We ran into that a lot. Now Mike manages a ton of bands, including Refused who definitely aren’t touring the US with practice amps, no guarantee, and without a U-Haul. Mike’s a friend so it’s funny, but that was the attitude then, we were frowned upon for making a profit.
I guess kids then forgot that even at $5 a head Fugazi were making money, they just weren’t trying to be a product. People really took that shit too far. It’s not like anyone is getting rich off a thousand dollar guarantee.
It’s cool when you’re 17-years-old and you live at home, and comeback from a summer tour with no money, you also have no overhead. My first car was a piece of shit that cost $300, that just sit at home, I didn’t have insurance on it, I didn’t have to pay for health insurance, I didn’t pay rent, money didn’t matter. Later on you have an apartment, car payments, you have all these bills, and things change. At the same time, that pressure takes the fun out of the band. Obviously when none of that shit matters, when you can drive across the country and not worry about making a dollar, that’s when a band is the most fun.
Back to Hagerstown, MD we played this how in a weird warehouse venue, and kids were mad that we had a $1,000 guarantee. That meant on a ten dollar door, we wanted to be paid for 100 kids being there, when we were 500-700, maybe on the low end 200 kids, that didn’t seem to far fetched. Part of the reason we even had guarantees was to immediately it shows the promoter is on the hook to pay you a minimum and if you’re on the hook to pay a band you’ll work harder to promote it. It weeds out these kids who just book a show to be the cool kid in town and has no idea how to put on a show. At that point we couldn’t drive across the country for free. At that Hagerstown show, there were about 400 kids there, there was four times our guarantee there. Where should that money go? Kids made a big deal out of it, I’m not even sure who made the shirt, I thought it was funny.
I always thought it was funny when kids got upset over ridiculous stuff, we had this stigma that we were a “rock star” band, maybe it was because we cared about our gear and got endorsements. It was weird, we were just kids playing music, but maybe we were more serious than other bands. It was never a rock star thing, if we were trying to be rock stars we certainly wouldn’t have been playing hardcore... Especially our style of hardcore. We were a band that other smaller bands would criticize, we were also on Victory, a label that just came out of nowhere and just took over. Revelation was kind of dying out, New Age started off strong in the 90s, but they got a bad reputation with their mail order and with not paying bands. Victory started and their early releases were decent, but then Strife, Snapcase, and Earth Crisis came out and the label became a powerhouse. They were signing every band, and the biggest and were on Victory. People had a problem with that, but looking back at the label and where they ended up, they were always big business minded, they definitely changed their focus to fit the climate, maybe some kids saw that early on, but at the time they were the label for hardcore.
Now it’s weird if you play a hardcore show and you aren’t “professional.”
It’s very hard to be successful as a band, and it’s very hard to tour year round. You have to applaud the bands that stick it out and find a way to make it work for them. Kids used to get mad if bands had too many merch designs, they’d say it’s all about selling shirts, but that’s how you eat on tour and pay for gas. Now you go to a show, and each band has 6 to 8 shirt designs. We used to have one or two. At the early shows I’d go to, I saw Infest three times and I never saw them sell a shirt at a show, even Chain of Strength, I never saw them selling shirts at a show, I would have bought one if I did. I guess it was because they were local bands and then bands mainly sold shirts when they toured. Now people have two hats, long sleeves, hoodies, and that’s great, it’s how bands survive.
Tell me about Crank Call Zine.
It was weird, we all did fuck with each other, but most of the time it was friendly. The Crank Call thing, it was Dave Mandel and I, just two high school kids being bored. It might have even been pre-Jerky Boys. Me and all my friend would always crank call people, we’d get celebrity’s phone numbers. We got Billy Idol’s number and we’d constantly harass him, I think it just grew out of that. I don’t know what set off the idea of printing them all in a zine, but we were just in Dave’s bedroom going through a list of numbers and making calls. The funny thing was, most of the time we never talked to anyone in the band, it was their mom, sister or girlfriend.
I guess it was a bizarre idea, but it was coming from wanting to do a zine that was different and had some humor to it. We did one issue, but there was a second issue that never came out. The layout and interviews were all done in the 90s, and it was going to be based on the issue of Schism with the Project X 7”, we were going to do songs related to crank calls on a flexi-disc. We never finished the songs, and the zine never came out, even though the entire layout is done. I was taking to Dave about reissuing the zine or putting it online just for fun with the unreleased issue. He’s a bit of a pack rat so he has all the original recordings of the calls.
Who was crank called for the second one?
I can barely remember, but we did have a good one with Troll from Reveal and Rob R Rock, not many people will remember those names, but those were great. On the first one, I thought the best one and the person got really mad, was with Isaac from Chorus of Disapproval. We crank called him and his girlfriend answered the phone, they had some weird bet that he couldn’t talk for a whole day, so she’s on the phone with us and he can’t talk. He got really mad, trying to get her off the phone. He ended up being really mad when it came out. Back then I was a little bit of a troublemaker, I’d start some weird shit just to be funny. We were heading to this club called Club 8 and a Half, I don’t know what made me do this, but my dad had a whole trout in our freezer, and I don’t know why but I brought this two foot trout to the show. We got to the show it was Blackspot and 1134, there were about 400 kids, we sneak the fish into the show and decide to throw it into the crowd during one of the bands. We take it and hurl it into the crowd, and you see it kind of float and then land next to these kids who are fighting. We ended up getting it back and throwing it in a few more times, there were kids with fish guts on them, it started to smell. I don’t know why we did it, but it was a fun time.