Action Swingers Just Won't 'Quit While You're Ahead'
Stream all of the Action Swingers new LP alongside a new interview with the band.
Action Swingers were a New York rock band initially active from 1989 to 1998. Quit While Your Ahead is a reissue of their 1994 album, a collection of the first two singles and unreleased tracks available via In the Red Records. Ned Hayden is the main and only constant member, and he’s joined on Quit While You’re Ahead by Julie Cafritz (Pussy Galore), J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Don Fleming and Johan Kugelberg, who are the beginning in a looooong line of musicians who have played in Action Swingers over the years.
The single "Kicked in the Head" exploded Action Swingers onto the New York rock scene in 1989, followed up with the "Fear of a Fucked-Up Planet" single. The next few years were the bands most prolific, starting with the self-titled debut album, touring the U.K. and recording a Peel Session, the More Fast Numbers EP and culminating in the snarling masterpiece Decimation Blvd, an unrelenting barrage of timeless nihilistic rock ’n’ roll. After that, he only recorded one more single, "Heavy Medication," before calling it quits in 1998.
Hayden returned in 2013 with the "Miserable Life" single, and played live this March for the first time since 1998. I talked with him about the re-issue, playing shows again, and what (if anything) he remembers about the Swinging years….
NOISEY: Kicked in the Head/Bum Trip was the first release for the Action Swingers. What was the song-writing and recording for that session like?
Ned Hayden: I wrote Kicked In The Head, Bum My Trip and Miserable Life in about 15 minutes. Julie, Johan and I decided to form the band on a Friday, I wrote the songs on Sunday Morning, we practiced once during the week and recorded on the following Friday. Don Fleming produced us. We recorded and mixed all 3 songs with Jim Waters at Waterworks in 3 hours for $100. Everything was done in one take. I remember Johan asking Don and Jim to make his drums sound like garbage cans. Hahaha!
Next up was the "Fear of a Fucked Up Planet" single.
That was done on the run. Julie was touring with STP around that time so she played on the A side but the B side was just me and Don. It was for the label I started for Caroline Records called Primo Scree. We also put out Don's band Gumball and the first Monster Magnet album Spine Of God.
Have the past 20 years confirmed your fear? When people bitch about the state of things are you like, “Yeah, tell me about it brother?”
I think musically things are better now than they have been for about 20 years. The rest of the world however has gone to hell unfortunately.
Where, when are the unreleased songs recorded? Why did they never come out? “Losing My Cool” it sounds like it could have been on Decimation Blvd.
Everything was recorded at Waterworks recording studio by Jim Waters with Don Fleming producing. Miserable Life was recorded during the session for the first single in 1989. The rest of the unreleased stuff was recorded in 1990 at various sessions. Losing My Cool and In The Hole were supposed to be for a Circuit Records single but the label went out of business before it was released. We recorded a bunch of noise stuff and I picked Nembutal Sunset out of that.
Do you have more unreleased songs or live audio that you would want to put out?
Not really. All the studio stuff has been released. I have a big box of live cassettes in my closet.
What’s the story behind the Courtney Love single?
We were on the same label as Hole when we started out. Played a few shows with them most notably at The Khyber Pass in Philadelphia where I caused a riot and Courtney got all pissed off at me and started singing a song about me. Later I had this cool riff while we were recording the More Fast Numbers 12" in London on our first UK tour and her name just fit. I ran into her in NYC after the record came out and she was very friendly and even put me and my girlfriend on the guest list for the Nirvana show at Roseland. I certainly lent her enough money to call Kurt on the road. Hahaha!
Like a lot of great 90’s rock bands, you gained a much larger following in Europe than the U.S. Was it strange to be so much better received over there?
We did 3 UK tours. We never toured mainland Europe. It was cool being in NME and Melody Maker and being played on the radio in England. We played The Camden Palace and stuff like that. I was able to work more there which was all I wanted to do. There really wasn't much opportunity for the band in America aside from being on Caroline and playing CBGB up the block.
John Peel was a big fan of Action Swingers. What was recording the Peel Sessions like?
We did a Peel Session on our first UK tour in 1992. Buffin the drummer for Mott The Hoople produced it. John Peel stopped by for a minute but he didn't talk to us. He played our records from the first single on his show a lot. It was cool to be included in his archive recently.
You’ve had, what, about 25 different members in AS at this point. What was your process for recruiting people? Did it ever come down to just whoever was in the bar with you that could play an instrument?
Hahaha! Julie and I met working at the CBGB Record Canteen which I managed. We met Johan there too. Then Julie got Bob Bert in the band and we knew Pete Shore from The Unsane. Then when Julie and Pete quit I got my friend Bruce Bennett from The A Bones and Howie Pyro who I had known since we were teenagers. Then when they all quit I met the new guys through Mojo guitar shop which Chris Cush owned. Then for the Toe Rag record and tour I played with two British friends-Barry who played with Jesse Hector and Tim who had played in The Loveblobs who we were on Wiiija with and who opened for us on our first UK tour. Usually it's just been friends. Most recently I played with Gary Wrong and Benny Devine from Gary Wrong Group and Abe White from The Manateees. They are two of my favorite bands. I asked them and they said yes.
The 2013 single "Miserable Life" was the first thing Action Swingers recorded since 1998. What brought you back?
The tracks were recorded in 1989 and 1990. They were just released for the first time on vinyl by Total Punk. Rich from the label asked me. It was already my favorite new label at the time so I said yes. I think the bands around now are the best in decades. It's an exciting time. I wanted to be part of it.
What bands/labels do you like, that make you say that?
Bands like Golden Pelicans, True Sons Of Thunder, Choke Chains, Buck Biloxi, Chicken Snake there are a lot of cool bands. Labels like Total Punk, Goner, In The Red and Crypt kept the scene on life support for years. Just a lot of people doing the DIY thing and trying to keep the dream alive. I don't have much time for the beard and skinny jeans scene. Hahaha!
You just headlined Total Punk Fuck Off weekend in Orlando. How was that?
It was a blast. I got to see and play with some of my favorite bands. We didn't really have any practice but it was fun anyway. The crowd was really into it.
And you’re planning to do a new record and tour as soon as you can “find two goons who remember three chords.” Any leads on that?
Hahaha! Yeah, I'm recording a new single for Total Punk. Also, I wanna tour to promote the In The Red record. I've got a couple of leads on some goons. Hahaha!
Anything else you’re working on now that you’d like to talk about?
Besides the new single I'm working on a new Action Swingers album, a noise guitar tape for Chocolate Monk in England and finishing my book about managing the CBGB Record Canteen, working at Caroline Records and playing in The Action Swingers.
How would you describe your years as the Action Swingers?
Well it definitely started out great and kinda ended in a disappointing heap. I tried to make the best records I could under the circumstances. I don't know what else to say. Hahaha!