An Oral History of Sick Of It All, Part I: Early Days, New Beginnings, and Swastikas
"It was kind of a mixed-up time as far as the politics goes."
Photo courtesy of Sick Of It All
In the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of hardcore punk, Sick Of It All stand alone. They are in their third decade of touring and recording, and have released 10 solid full-length records with barely a change in personnel. With the release of 1994’s “Scratch the Surface” they took NYHC worldwide, and have seldom stopped to take a breath ever since. They are the closest the hardcore scene has to a household name. In short, they are legends.
The band formed in 1986 and consisted of the Koller brothers Lou (vocals) and Pete (guitar), Rich Cipriano (bass) and Armand Majidi (drums) in Queens, NY during the New York Hardcore explosion. Throughout their career the band has only experienced two line-up changes, with Max Capshaw temporarily filling in for Majidi on drums in 1989 and Cipriano being replaced by Craig Setari in 1992. Along with a handful of other bands, Sick Of It All helped pioneer a style of music and community that exists to this day.
Noisey sat down with the band to discuss their long, colorful history as titans of the NYHC scene.
Lou Koller: We all used to hang out. There was Rest in Pieces, Straight Ahead ... the early hardcore scene. We wanted to start our own thing. At the time, my parents used to go away for two weeks in the summer, so we would all be jamming in my basement. Armand and Craig would come over and we would play all these stupid songs that we made up. We would play so loud; it was during the day and all the neighbors would be standing outside staring at the house. Eventually, Pete and I decided that we wanted to start a real band.
Pete Koller: Armand went to the same high school as us; Rich was one of our neighborhood friends. Back then, if you were into a certain kind of music, you knew everyone that was into it because there wasn’t that many people. If you saw somebody wearing Doc Martens back in those days, you knew they were into hardcore or punk. Armand was a natural musician, so it was easy to follow his lead. The lineup was me, Lou, this guy named Mark McNeilly on bass and David Lam on drums. Mark and Dave were in the band for one show. Armand joined as our drummer after that.
Armand Majidi: I had a strange history: I was born in Iran and lived there until I was 12 years old, then I moved to Queens after the Revolution. I lived at my grandparent's house for a few years in Jamaica, Queens, and went to school in Flushing, where I met Lou and Pete. We met around 1982 or so, we knew each other for about four years before the band started.
First, we were all metalheads. One day, I was walking home, and in those days, it was real obvious when two people were into metal or hardcore. It was just the way we looked, we had some kind of kinship. We just instantly started talking. We ended up running into each other again in high school, Francis Lewis High School in Flushing, Queens. Right around that time, I was mostly listening to metal, but was discovering hardcore. The was a radio show called Noise, and that would expose us to all of the latest hardcore stuff coming out of New York, as well as out of California, all of the stuff coming out of England. That mixed in with all of the metal stuff that we were into; we were just enjoying it all.
Everybody at that point was starting a band. My first band was Rest in Pieces, out of Westchester County. I joined and started out playing guitar for them but ended up as a vocalist. Craig then asked me to join his band and that would eventually become Straight Ahead. While those two bands were going, Lou and Pete put a band together as well. Originally it was this this guy Mark on bass and Little Dave on drums. It was kind of interesting because Little Dave was this Chinese guy: a White Power Chinese guy. In order for that to make any sense, you would have to be around in the mid-80s to understand where certain people were at, because at the same time you had Puerto Rican guys in the New York hardcore scene with White Power tattoos. It was kind of a mixed-up time as far as the politics goes. He was the original drummer, but he didn’t last very long; maybe he just wasn’t into it or his views were just so different from everybody else that he just kind of ended up on the outside.
The whole Nazi thing was kind of in the vein of Sid Vicious: the whole punk rock idea of offending everybody around you. It was a very easy way to get a rise out of people. In the mid-80s, people associated the swastika with punk rock almost as much as they did with Nazi Germany. It didn’t quite have the same meaning; it was just a big “Fuck you” to the world. It wasn’t like you had any real political agenda. The interesting thing with Dave is that he actually started pursuing the political side of things; he was a Chinese guy getting in touch with all of these White Power groups across America. It was pretty strange… it was very strange, because if they found out that he was a Chinese guy, they wouldn’t be too happy.
Lou: He was way into the whole skinhead look and later on he got involved with White Power. I guess he figured that he had to be White Power to be a skinhead.
Armand: When I was the singer in Rest in Pieces, I was into the whole “Fuck You” side of things. I wore a Skrewdriver shirt at one of the matinees—I actually borrowed the shirt from Dave—just to ruffle feathers. It ended up being this Internet sensation. My outfit was ridiculous. If you look up Rest in Pieces on Youtube, you’ll see that video above all other Rest in Pieces videos.
The first show
Armand: It was Craig that got Sick Of It All their first show. The Long Island hardcore scene was going really strong; Youth of Today were playing a show out there and that was the first show he hooked up. The night before, Rest in Pieces had played with Youth of Today out in Philly, and what I ended up doing was staying over in Philly with the Youth of Today guys and took the van ride back to the next show with Sick Of It All.
Pete: Craig booked our first show at the Right Tracks Inn on Long Island.
Craig Setari: I booked their first gig. At the time I was playing in Youth of Today and I booked a show. It was Youth of Today, Straight Ahead; I was going to play in both bands. Crippled Youth and SOIA were going to open. I kept asking them if they were rehearsing and they said, “We’re not sure”, so I put down “Special Guest” on the flyer. When they confirmed, they wound up playing the show. That was maybe the summer of 1986.
Lou: Craig said: “You guys gotta play this show.” We felt we weren’t ready, we had been rehearsing for a month; he said that if “you’re not ready now, you’ll never be ready.” He put us on the bill and we were scared to death. It was our very first show and Craig just forced us into it. We did good—a lot of friends came: Anthony and Ernie from Token Entry were there. We were smart: we played all of our songs first then closed with a Cause for Alarm cover. Cause for Alarm had just split up and people went crazy when we played the cover.
We had the name Sick Of It All at that point. Before that we had names like General Chaos and some others. Pete actually came up with the name, but Dave wanted to change the name to “Sick of All”. I kidded with him that it sounded like a Chinese guy trying to speak English.
Dave went on to become a Marine. He showed up later at one of our shows with a bunch of other Marines. It was funny, because most of them were black guys.