A few weeks ago my head exploded and the internet stopped when I saw one of these Suicidal Tendencies original shirts on eBay for $3,000. Unsurprisingly, the shirt belonged to Dan Clements, the singer of Excel, so I decided to talk to him about Suicidal T
When Nathan Nedorostek and I first started working on Radio Silence we compiled a list of “holy grails of hardcore.” Some of these included: Mike Judge’s construction gloves, a piece of the wall from the Anthrax club, any ninja T-shirt worn by Al Barile, and an original marker shirt from Suicidal Tendencies’ debut album. We were able to track a few of these things down, but mostly found other ephemera that was equally as interesting along the way. A few weeks ago my head exploded and the internet stopped when I saw one of these Suicidal Tendencies original shirts on eBay with a $3,000 Buy It Now price. After gawking at the images for a while, I decided to reach out the seller to get the backstory on the shirt even though the description was fairly detailed. Unsurprisingly, the homemade shirt belonged to Dan Clements, the singer of Excel. In case you aren’t familiar, Excel made up the Holy Trinity of Venice, CA hardcore--well to me at least--along with No Mercy and, of course, Suicidal.
Along with being one of the most important hardcore punk albums in history, Suicidal’s debut made an impact on many suburban grommets because of its aesthetic. It was the first time middle America outside of California got a taste of LA gang culture and, more importantly, the art and graffiti that accompanied it. Everyone I knew that loved Suicidal was guilty of recreating that signature style of graffiti on the underside of their baseball hat bill at one point. The visual of a bunch of doughy 7th and 8th graders with pulled up socks, long shorts, and flipped up bills must have looked ridiculous, but to us we were some fucking bad ass gang that could kill any poser (unfortunately the older, tougher dirts of our towns shattered this idea quickly). On a production trip to LA, Nathan and I were lucky enough to meet Shaun Ross, bass player for Excel, and Erik Brunetti, the founder of the Fuct brand. They both gave us a mini-history lesson on Suicidal, gang graffiti, and the pages of Teen Angels Magazine. I goofily admitted my crush on Suicidal art and soaked it all in.
As recently as last year, I made another marker shirt for a Super Bowl party, but fuck that shit, let’s talk about the real deal with Dan.
Excel in the 80s.
Noisey: We got in touch because you're auctioning off a piece of hardcore history. Can you give me the backstory on that photo shoot and the backstory on the shirt in the auction?
Dan Clements: This shirt was hand drawn by Ric Clayton, AKA RxCx. Ric did the majority of the hand drawn shirts but on the debut Suicidal album. Glen Friedman chose a variety of representations showing a range of styles. But a RxCx version was the one you wanted.
The photo shoot was orchestrated by Glen. As the manager for Suicidal and producer, he set up the photo shoot and even had Black Flag come and play a west LA day time backyard party to insure a solid turn out. No one was gonna miss a Black Flag performance. The only stipulation was that everyone had to come with their representation of Suicidal. Ric and our friend Art Gardia were the first of the Venice punx to go full English peace punk style via Discharge, GBH, and Varukers with spiked painted leather jackets and super big spiked hair. I have known Ric since the 4th grade and he was always involved with cutting edge styles.
Over the years, the shirts have become pretty iconic. Aside from your own, were there any shirts featured on the album that were owned or drawn by members of Suicidal, Excel, or anyone else noteworthy?
The artistic contributions came from the artistically inclined individuals within the scene. On the album, the sickest most badass designs came from RxCx, Art Gardia, Mike Frasier, and Dave Kasin. Those artist shad their finger on the trigger when it came to putting the soundtrack in the form of a drawing on a shirt. But I would say Ric Clayton was the main artist that gave that "Suicidal" image.
For most of America, the first Suicidal album was our introduction to a very unique style of graffiti and a culture that didn't reach outside of California. Can you talk about how gang culture mixed with punk aesthetics?
The influence of gang culture is pretty much how Skip described it in the Dogtown & Z-Boys documentary. The area has had decades of history regarding gang culture, so it was a nod to where we are from. Artist Doug Smith, who has done skateboard and surf graphics depicting the ultimate in "Locals only" attitude, was one of Ric Clayton’s biggest influences. Doug originally signed his 1970s graphics as DxSx, and was one of the first punk rockers to come from Venice.
How important was Ric Clayton's artwork on the scene, can you talk about what made his style so unique?
Ric Clayton’s work put the attitude on paper in the form of art. You could feel the music from is images. It's no surprise that people like Jay Adams were, and still are close to him.
When talking about gangs, everyone wants to start off talking about how crazy they were, or rattle off the most violent story. What's something about that time that people wouldn't expect to hear, kind of like finding out Rosey Grier was into needlepoint.
The first thing that comes to mind is that Mike Muir came from a strong devout Mormon family upbringing. Although Mike had been known to be a penny pincher, as a youth he attended the Mormon church and from I remember his mom telling me in conversation that he gave the Mormon church 10% of his earnings. Those who were in a band with him, or did business with him, know that that 10% probably is a nice amount.
Glen E Friedman has stated several times that he really orchestrated Suicidal's look. What's your take on his involvement with the band?
Here's the real story, told to me by Glen himself: Glen was Suicidal's manager. If one references Glen’s first photo pictorial printed in his fanzine called My Rules, you’ll see a picture of Mike Muir singing. No bandana. No Pendleton. No winos. In 1981, Mike was still influenced my Darby Crash, hence the row of safety pin earrings he sported. Just YouTube Suicidal Tendencies 1981.
Since Glen’s responsibility as a manager was to look ahead, he knew Suicidal needed an image of its own. I asked him this same question at his book signing for "Fuck You Heroes" at Maxfield Beverly Hills. He told me a story about how he ran the idea by Black Flag’s bassist Chuck Dukowski, who already back in 1980 was sporting the "vato" influence (bandana, button up Pendleton's, flipped up cap, wino shoes). Chuck said to Glen, “This band is from Venice? Have them dress up like vatos.” That's where the spark was ignited. Glen was the messenger and the curator to this concept. Chuck gave the vision.
What are you up to these days and what's ahead for you and the recently reformed Excel?
After a 15 year break, Excel is picking up where we left off and that's pretty much that. To celebrate we’ll be playing live inside the RVCA store on Fairfax in LA March 30th.