An excerpt from the book, which can be purchased here.
Tony Rettman: How did you find out there was a New York Hardcore scene? Were you going to shows where you grew up in Connecticut prior to shows in New York?
Ray Cappo:Truthfully, I didn’t even know anything was going on in Connecticut even though Connecticut had a very striving scene. I lived in Danbury which was an hour and fifteen minutes from New York City on the Metro-North train. My parents were sort of New Yorkers and my brothers and sisters were all older and they lived in the city. I used to go to New York City on weekends and my parents were cool with it because they figured I’d stay with my brothers or sisters and everything would be cool. Little did they know! I would just say ‘I’m going to see some music this weekend’. I’d keep it pretty vague. They had no idea I was hanging out on the Lower East Side all weekend. My first real introduction was I liked alternative music. I wasn’t quite sure of what Hardcore was at that point. Then I stumbled into CBGB’s when the UK Subs were playing one night. The Young and The Useless were playing, which was guys from the Beastie Boys. Once I saw the Young and The Useless, I thought ‘These are kids that are my age. I can do this’.
Usually, growing up in a suburban American high school environment, if you’re in a band, you’re in a cover band; at least back when I was growing up. Kids were playing the best of AC/DC, the best of Rush, the best of Journey. I always thought that was so lame. So when I saw these bands that weren’t technically good but playing from their heart in some random nightclub, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I was with a girlfriend at the time and she goes ‘Ray, you could do this! You should start a band!’ So when I got back to my typical American high school, I grabbed three of my friends who were the only three guys into alternative music and said ‘Let’s start a band’. That’s when we started the band Violent Children.
So did you just immediately start going to CBGB’s?
CBGB’s became my escape from my world. It was a great place. You could see incredible bands for three dollars.
It was almost like walking into a comic book with superheroes and villains and characters that were bigger than life. That’s what the New York scene was like. The characters on the scene were bigger and more colorful than the black and white people in your high school. There was no Raybeez or Vinnie Stigma or Harley Flanagan in your high school. These guys were bigger than life. When you would go back to your high school on a Monday morning and try to explain the bands you saw or how you saw one guy hit another guy over the head with a beer bottle, people would ask ‘Where do you go where you see people hitting each other over the head with beer bottles?’ At that point in life, the only place you should be seeing something like that is in a movie.
Were you already buying records by New York bands?
In 1982, there were barely any records. The only bands from New York that had records out were the False Prophets, Kraut, and The Misguided.
The only places you could hear this stuff were on these late-night college radio shows. In my hometown, was the Danbury State College radio station and there was a radio show where it would be a mix between Duran Duran or INXS or Men Without Hats or Oingo Boingo with stuff like Dead Kennedys or Flipper or Youth Brigade or Minor Threat. So we thought ‘Let’s make a demo tape and get it played on this radio station!’ We made this really shitty demo tape and then we went to this radio station at midnight and threw pebbles against the window and the guy opened the window and we were like ‘Hey! We’re in a Hardcore band!’ The guy was so psyched that Danbury, Connecticut had a Hardcore band. We asked him to play our demo and he actually played our demo. He was saying ‘We have Danbury Connecticut’s only Hardcore band Violent Children in the studio!’ It was so cool. That night, we got two phone calls. One was the guy who owned the club The Anthrax, which wasn’t quite a club yet. He said they were doing a benefit to open the Anthrax and he wanted us to play. He said it would be an art gallery and a band hangout place. We got our first gig from that radio show. Check out the line up: Violent Children, CIA, Agnostic Front, Cause for Alarm, Hose, Reflex from Pain, Lost Generation. It was a big massive line-up.
Then, Johnny Stiff called from New York who booked shows at A7. From that one show, we went from being a local band to getting gigs.
When the show came up, we couldn’t believe it because we had seen Urban Waste and Reagan Youth. We couldn’t believe we were going to be playing with all our favorite bands. When you’re a high school band and your favorite band is Aerosmith, you’re never going to play with them. Here I am, listening to Reagan Youth and we’re playing our first gig with them.
We were the second band on and after the set, the police busted in and raided the place because we were all underage. All the underage people were hiding under the stage for the rest of the night. For a sixteen-year-old kid, it was probably the most exciting thing to happen. For your band to be playing with all your favorite bands at a big show and now it gets raided by the cops and you got to get home without your parents finding out. You borrowed your father’s car. It was a whole thing. Then, Johnny Stiff called from New York who booked shows at A7. From that one show, we went from being a local band to getting gigs. By that point, I had established a friendship with the guys from Agnostic Front and Harley from the Cro-Mags. If you knew those guys, you knew the entire scene. Not only were they larger than life characters, but they were people that were writing their own heartfelt music.
One time, my sister took me to go look at NYU as a potential university for me to go to. During lunch, I said, ‘I need to get some fresh air’. I ran down the street, bought the Cause for Alarm single, and ran back. I knew it was coming out that day.
How did you meet Porcell?
Porcell and I met at the Anthrax. Violent Children pressed our own single. The cool thing was if you wanted to make a record, you made a record. You make 500 records and after that, no more records. The biggest band around would press 200 records if they were lucky. As the scene grew, those records became collectors’ items. It became a whole boutique experience. It was so exciting to try to find those records. After a while, we asked Porcell to join Violent Children.
Why did Violent Children break-up and you and Porcell form Youth of Today?
We wanted to take this seriously. We thought Straight Edge was an important message. We wanted to take it seriously and travel around the world. It was a lofty idea. We wanted to put out a record and travel around America. That was our dream. And we ended up doing so much more than that. By the time Break Down The Walls came out, we couldn’t believe it.
Was there an immediate reaction to Youth of Today on the NYHC scene?
It was quite a phenomenon. We played in New York with Agnostic Front and Damage. It was right before our single came out. I’m a big mouth, and I was really into Straight Edge, and back then no one was Straight Edge in New York. We had a little bit of an attitude. We left and went to California and toured with 7 Seconds and they put out our single on their label, Positive Force. We got back and everybody was Straight Edge. It was unbelievable. I knew Raybeez from hanging out and he was always not Straight Edge.
I remember coming back and seeing Todd Youth on the street and he grabbed me and said ‘Check this out, we’re all Straight Edge now!’ I was like ‘You’re kidding!’ and he was like ‘No, even Raybeez is Straight Edge’ and I was like ‘Now I know you’re kidding’. Sure enough, we went to hang out with Raybeez and he said ‘We’re all Straight Edge now!’ When we came back from that tour of California with 7 Seconds, is when we decided to move to New York City. Straight Edge took over New York quickly. The timing was so right because there was this whole influx of new people coming into the scene.
That’s where a lot of people connected with the band. At the time, everyone from the first wave was saying Hardcore was over and then there was this band very forcibly saying “No!”
For people to think Hardcore stopped in 1985, I feel that maybe they weren’t into Hardcore anymore at that time, but truthfully, that’s when New York took off. Sick of It All, Youth of Today, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags. A big part of the New York scene happened post-’85. That’s when Agnostic Front became a global band. That ’82 NYHC was really cool, but it never really left New York. The Abused and Urban Waste were cult bands. That doesn’t take anything away from them. If there were no Urban Waste or The Abused, there would be no Youth of Today because we literally copied them.
Would you say Youth of Today ushered in a new era for Hardcore?
Youth of Today brought a suburban element to the scene. I guess there was almost a suburban element to the scene, but I think Youth of Today made it easier not to be a badass to hang out. You don’t have to be a criminal to hang out. You don’t have to be a drug addict to hang out.
Truthfully, a lot of the people that fell in on the Lower East Side and squatted down there, most of them were not from New York City. Not many people grew up in New York City. New York City was a hub. There was an influx of kids from the suburbs that would come up. There were kids that thought ‘I can relate to Hardcore, but I can’t relate to the negative elements’. To me, that was a real deterrent because I wasn’t into drugs or the ‘live fast die young’ thing. The Straight Edge thing lets you become a part of that scene but still has ethics, morals, and self-integrity. That being said, the music was the common thread that brought all these different personalities altogether. When Revelation put out theTogethercompilation, that’s what it was. We were together and coming from all different places and coming together in the collective of alternative music. Truthfully, we were the alternative to what was going on back then. It was a great time to be in New York.
Why did you decide to make Warzone the first band to release on Revelation?
I don’t think those early Warzone gigs were necessarily that great. It was just that Raybeez was such a great character. He was from the old scene where they did tons of drugs. But then when he went Straight Edge, it created that nice bridge. He was always a very positive, upbeat, welcoming person. Although he was hard, you never thought unwelcomed by the guy. He was a great ambassador for the old school.
Jordan and I just admired him as an ambassador of the old school, so we thought ‘This band is breaking up and they’ve done so many demos, why don’t we put out some of their demos on a record?’ We almost laughed to ourselves and thought ‘Yeah, that would be friggin’ cool!’ Then I said ‘You know what would be really cool? If we put posters inside the singles’. Think about it, it was a band filled with characters. Todd Youth was a crazy character. Tito, another colorful character. We thought we should put a different poster for each band member. We might have done that for a few limited copies of the record.
We thought if Revelation just put out the Warzone record, that would be great, and then it grew. We always felt almost like historians that had documented the scene. We wanted to document something that would be over in the wink of an eye. That’s what records are. As an adult, to look back on those records and remember what I was thinking when I made it and where I was living and who I was hanging out with. For me, it’s like a yearbook.
By the time we had put out the Warzone record, that line-up had broken up. We thought that were never going to reform so we thought ‘This band is going to go undocumented. We have to document this’.
Me and Porcell were the original psycho record collectors. We created the craziest of record collecting on the scene. We would post our want lists and offer the limited versions of the records on Revelation. We would trade an orange vinyl limited to 200 pressings of the Warzone record for an SSDThe Kids Will Have Their Say. We were making our own money here!
How important was Some Records?
Duane was a private historian. He understood that all this stuff was temporary and it’s going to end. I would ask him if he had the Side by Side record yet and he would say ‘Yeah, I got them from Jordan’ and I would say ‘You know we did a different color pressing of a few of them’ and he say ‘Oh yeah, I got them’. He would pull out twenty of them. I would think he was crazy but he would say ‘Ray, don’t you understand these things are going to be gone soon and no one else will have them?’ Duane was such a fan of the music that he couldn’t have a business brain in his head. I mean, he had a record store with no sign in front!
Gina (Duane’s partner) was more of a business person. She would say to me ‘Ray, you have to talk to him. He’s going to go out of business! Every time a band comes down here to sell a demo tape, he buys ten of them!’ He was a record hoarder. It was the most unassuming, underground store with one nerdy guy behind the counter. There were maybe two boxes of singles on the counter and a very thin selection of Hardcore because Duane was an epicurean of Hardcore. He was too much of a puritan for the store to last, but I appreciated his gesture.
How did Revelation expand beyond the Warzone 7”?
At first, we just wanted to document Warzone. Then it becomes something like ‘Wait a minute, we need to document this band’. The second thing we put out was the Together compilation. It was a whole new wave of bands that no one had ever heard of. We never thought it was going to be popular outside of New York. Maybe some friends of ours in L.A would get it, but that was about it. Then it became this sick phenomenon that spread internationally.
Nowadays, you have whole marketing and branding teams that are supposed to come up with the ideas. When you think about it, we were figuring the concept of branding before we knew what it even was. There was definitely a look from that period. I remember being in a club in East Germany and seeing all these kids with all the Revelation shirts on and they looked like they could have been from New York City circa 1986, but it was 1995. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh my god! We created a whole fashion and culture’. We never thought it was going to become that. We did it because it was a cool time with cool music and people. It wasn’t that sophisticated. It was very grassroots and homegrown.
When did you first sense people were being critical of the band?
When Break Down The Walls came out, we became a national band quickly. We did a tour around America and instead of getting a heroes’ welcome when we got back to New York, we found out there was envy. As much as I was upset about it, that exists everywhere. In the corporate world, there’s always some new guy who is better at what the old guy there has been doing for years. We sold maybe six thousand records. We toured America in a crappy van while constantly being broke. No one ever left New York pretty much. Whatever it was, that was the first time I felt a backlash.
There also seemed to be a reaction towards the Straight Edge thing getting bigger and bigger.
Straight Edge got so many people excited, that there was a natural backlash where people said ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want to be Straight Edge’.
I didn’t grow up in the Straight Edge scene. If anything, we created that scene. But at a point, I could see where some people were coming from. The Straight Edge scene seemed kind of dumbed down. It bummed me out. Straight Edge created a bubble that was a scene within a scene that wasn’t really interested in anything that wasn’t Straight Edge. That made me sad because I loved the Buzzcocks, P.I.L and other things. It was sort of sad that newer kids were just getting into Youth of Today or Uniform Choice. They would buy any record that was Straight Edge by these bands like Wide Awake and Aware, but if some other punk band would put out a record, they would be like ‘They’re not Straight Edge, who cares?’ It narrowed their whole view of the Hardcore scope.
What lured you into vegetarianism?
I always had this pull towards spirituality and a truth quest. I got a calling to be a vegetarian. I want to improve what I can do in this world. I want to be very careful about what I put in my mouth and if it harms other beings. I made the public statement that I was a vegetarian and decided we were going to preach that as a part of being Straight Edge. I remember telling Porcell that and he was like ‘Oh man! We’ve already stirred up so much stuff with Straight Edge, now we’re really going to piss people off!’ And it did!
What about the “Shutdown” show at CBGB’s that got the band banned from the club?
That show got sensationalized more than what it was. It was a typical, ordinary show where everybody wanted to stage dive and they couldn’t. But of course, CBGB’s wasn’t allowing it anymore because they were getting sued. Imagine an insurance company asking ‘What goes on in your club?’ and you say ‘We allow people to get up on stage and jump off on other peoples’ heads’. As an adult, I get it. But stage diving was such a part of the culture, there was no way of not coming off like a bad guy when you ask people not to stage dive. I got 86’ed from CBGB’s for some time and I was pissed off. What could you do? Not stage dive? It’s what we do!
The whole Hardcore scene was built on the fact that there was no difference between band and audience. There was nothing where the band were rock stars and the people in the audience were puny and sitting in chairs. It was just important to be in the crowd as it was to be in the band. That was the thing people loved most about Hardcore.
Where did Krishna come into the picture?
I read books about yogis and Buddhists and Christian mystics. I would get inspiration from them and write lyrics. Look at the lyrics of Youth of Today. They are influenced by words of literature. I got inspired by this literature. All the things about the material world that all these great yogis and mystics would write about, I felt like ‘I’m over that shit. I’m not greedy. I’m not envious. I’m not competitive. I know the material world is temporary’. But I was immersed in the success of this micro-world where it was all there. Greed, envy, lust, ignorance. I thought I was above it, but I was immersed in it. My success has made me suffer even more. I was really burnt out on it and then I had my father die unexpectedly. That’s when I understood the temporality of the material world. In the Straight Edge scene, everybody was looking up to me and truthfully, I didn’t know what I was talking about. There were tenets of the Straight Edge thing like you should strive to be a better person and be forgiving and not kill animals. But, you know, my mom could tell you that! It’s not like I was some Dali Lama for saying something as simple as that. The Straight Edge scene became too much of this thing where kids just thought they were perfect. They didn’t realize it was a stepping stone to do greater things with your life. I felt that the Straight Edge scene was limiting itself. There was an arrogance in it that you find in religion or anything where you do something for your self-betterment. But instead of doing it for yourself, you do it to lord over other people. In the name of doing something better for yourself, you end up hating other people. It defeats the whole idea of self-betterment. This was what I was watching happen and it was super bumming me out.
I thought it was crazy. It got me to thinking ‘What do I want? Do I want to get ten times bigger in Hardcore? Will that make me happier?’ I wanted to know what would make me a happier person. I thought nothing would make me happy except for some sort of God quest. So, I quit music. Shelter was where I thought ‘How can I refine what I’m doing?’ I wanted to tweak it but make it more spiritual.
Shelter was supposed to be my final record ever. It was a project I did with Tom Capone from Beyond and Quicksand and some older guys I knew from Connecticut. They helped me record this music that I wrote and that was supposed to be my ‘Goodbye’ to Hardcore and then I became a monk. Later, the more I studied Indian philosophy, a big part of that philosophy is you don’t quit what you were born to do. You take what you do and do it in a spiritual way instead of the material way and that’s how Shelter was born as a full-fledged band. It took me to give it up to get me to refine it.