INTERVIEWS

Question: When did you first hear of the Straight Edge movement and the Boston Straight Edge scene?
Jonathan Anastas: I was in high school in 1981/1982 and working in the afternoons at Boston's only alternative record store. This store was the center of the underground music scene. Dave Smalley [DYS, Dag Nasty, All] later worked there, as did Aimee Mann when she started till Tuesday. My job was to stand on a box, catch shop lifters and look mean. We'd always get 2 or 3 copies of all the early Hardcore records from Dischord in Washington DC, Ratcage in NYC and the West Coast labels. As an employee, I'd always buy a copy before they went out on the shelves. So I knew about SOA and Minor Threat, etc. and the Washington DC Straight Edge thing.
Jonathan Anastas: I had always felt like drugs/drinking were not for me, although I had done a little of both out of peer pressure. At the time, Boston had a huge old-school ['77 influenced] Punk scene, but no Hardcore scene. Those people were all older and over the legal age. SSD formed in 1981 and played their first show that summer. The FU's were already a band but were sort of lumped into the old scene when they started. I missed SSD's first show as I was on a family vacation. But, by the time I got back, there were dozens of kids with shaved heads and X's on their hands. The whole thing took off behind SSD. They had a radio demo called "How Much Art" which was an attack on the current state of Boston music. Within 6 months there were 4-6 viable bands playing and a network of shows at a collective/communist art gallery [Gallery East] and rented VFW Halls [ironic, Punk bands renting army veteran halls so they can make rent].
Jonathan Anastas: Most of the scene [and the more Straight Edge bands] also centered around the large road crew SSD had collected [18-20 guys] who went everywhere with them. Dave Smalley and I were both part of that group. All of a sudden, I had a place where I felt - for the first time - really at home with people who had like views. Saturdays and Sundays were all about hanging out on Newbury Street, putting up flyers with paste, eating pizza, hanging out.
Question: When did DYS become a reality? How did it all start? And how did everyone in the band all get to know each other?
Jonathan Anastas: Dave Smalley [the singer] put a sign up in Newbury Comics [the record store I worked at] saying Singer and drummer looking to form band. I had been playing with a guitar player whose real soul was in Heavy Metal but who appreciated some Hardcore. Dave and I knew each other a bit and we decided to give it a chance.
Jonathan Anastas: We rehearsed the first time in Gallery East. It became clear that his drummer and my guitar player were not going to work out. We got another guitar player through the classified ads. He knew a drummer, and the initial lineup was set. A short demo which produced the radio demo "Wolfpack" was recorded. After a couple shows, we fired the guitar player due to drinking/philosophical differences, kept the drummer and started looking. Al Barile from SSD suggested that we play with Andy Strachan [another member of SSD's crew]. Things improved a lot after Andy joined and we played behind that lineup and recorded "Brotherhood" for SSD's XClaim! label.
Jonathan Anastas: As our musical skill progressed and as the scene moved toward more of a slow/rock influenced sound we felt [like many other Boston bands] that a second guitar player was needed. We auditioned only one [Ross Luongo] and hired him on the spot. He had been playing in a band called Impact Unit with whom we shared a rehearsal space with. That band featured the vocal debut of Dicky Barrett of The Bosstones. With that lineup [our best by far I feel], we wrote and recorded the material for the album DYS which took a more commercial turn musically, but stayed with our roots of personal politics lyrically. It was released by Modern Method as they had much better distribution than XClaim! At that time, we and SSD had moved into the hard rock space and tried to expand our fan base without losing all of our original followers.
Question: What's the reason for using DYS as a band name?
Jonathan Anastas: DYS stood for Department of Youth Services, the state agency where they locked up juvenile delinquents. Seemed like a good name for a bunch of kids society was afraid of.
Question: Was everyone in the band Straight Edge?
Jonathan Anastas: Dave, Ross and I were Straight Edge for every day of the band's history. Andy was Straight Edge for most of it. Dave Collins - the drummer - drank occasionally. We had no drinking or drug use problems among any members.
Question: Was the by now almost legendary Boston-NYC-Washington Washington DC rivalry a reality or just a lot of talk?
Jonathan Anastas: It's a matter of perspective. Compared to the gang-driven LA scene [Suicidals vs. the LADS, etc.] or the Hip Hop world, or the days of late 90's crews it was very tame - no guns, only fists. However, there was some real violence and rivalry, the worst of which was pretty bad.
Jonathan Anastas: Washington DC and Boston shared both a Straight Edge mentality and a suburban/upper middle-class upbringing. We had a lot in common and got along very well. Sometimes it was as mainstream as touch football in front of the Dischord house. The NYC scene was based around the Lower East Side and seemed very street and violent compared to Boston. It also had beggars, Krishnas and other oddities we didn't deal with in our lives in Boston. They were also proudly no edge and had that defensive paranoia drinkers often had around Straight Edgers.
Jonathan Anastas: The worst times were bad, and both sides did their best to wind up the others:
  • The Boston Crew used to roll into NYC shows out of SSD's black windowless van with X's painted on our heads so if you grabbed a bald head in the pit and saw no X you'd know to punch them as they were from NYC.
  • Both Springa [SSD] and Choke were seriously hurt in pit piles.
  • There was a melee at a DYS/SSD show at the Rock Hotel between members of the two Boston Bands, The Nihilistics and their friends.
  • Members of the Agnostic Front crew beat up Dicky Barrett in a broom closet back stage at a show in Boston.
  • Pat from Negative FX got stabbed in the hand at a show at CBGB's.
Question: What was the Boston Crew all about? What were they up to? Some people claim that politics were involved and then especially more conservative values. Rumors in Hardcore are quite a common phenomenon though.
Jonathan Anastas: As Punk goes, we [and by we I mean the core SSD/DYS/Negative FX/Roadie group of 30 people] would probably be called conservative in some ways. Many of us lived at home in nice suburbs, we all lifted weights a lot, ate red meat [lots of it - a Boston tradition was post-concert parties at the Hilltop, the biggest steak restaurant in America] and generally disliked people who still had that old school GBH look. We all had shaved heads, our look was baggy Levi's, hooded sweatshirts, t-shirts with the sleeves cut off part way, police boots [not DMs] or MC boots. However, we were not racist skins, were all Straight Edge, believed that the youth of America should be changing things that didn't seem right. It was far more Minor Threat-styled personal politics, NOT the MDC/Dead Kennedys-styled leftist Hippie crap. To them, we were Republicans [we all refused to play with the DK's due to their politics]. To Republican jocks, we were freaks.
Question: Do still have any contact with any of those guys? Are many of them still Straight Edge?
Jonathan Anastas: Regarding Straight Edge, I can't speak for everyone, nor would I choose to. Some people I see almost every week as they also moved to LA [Jamie from SSD, his wife Angie, Christine McCarthy, the Smalleys used to live here, William from Last Rights, Tony Perez from Last Rights/SSD's guitar roadie] I see Dave Smalley when he tours LA; I see Al from SSD once a year; Choke too. Drew Stone from The High and the Mighty lives in LA when not on the road with bands like Biohazard.
Question: Which concert was the most fucked up one you played with DYS and why?
Jonathan Anastas: Wow, there are so many ways to answer that. I was most nervous our first show outside of Boston at A7 [an old club in NYC]. The whole night Darryl from the Bad Brains stood in front of me and I was this 17 year old kid thinking Wow, he's the greatest bass player and I SUCK. That's all I remember from the show. Or the show with SSD in NYC that turned into a riot. Or the one in Cambridge where our drummer and Dave got in a fight on stage over politics [Dave went through a political rant stage between songs, we all hated it].
Question: Greatest memory of DYS?
Jonathan Anastas: Again, options: Holding the master tapes for our second album and feeling we had recorded the most technically proficient and cleanest sounding record in this history of Hardcore. Our last show headlining the Paradise in Boston with a great new drummer [Chris Foley from SSD], an amazing sound system, the right gear and the tightest performance we ever played, all in our home town. We debuted two new songs which never got recorded. Our East Coast tour [the only real 2 weeks of playing every night we did]. Picking up the pressing of our first record in New Jersey and selling half of them an hour later in NYC. Most of my best memories of that time are actually road stories with SSD [we would crew for each other if both bands were not playing].
Question: What inspired you to change your sound for the second DYS album? It's fairly different that the first album [I think so at least].
Jonathan Anastas: As you learn to play your instrument better, the musical limitations of Hardcore become obvious. I have no idea how bands like Agnostic Front can play the same stuff for 20 years. Also, all of us [SSD, DYS] grew up listening to hard Rock/Metal and the dirty secret in Boston is that we never stopped. We would all go to Aerosmith concerts, The Clash, even Def Leppard and Motley Crue. By the time that record was written, Metallica and other alternative Metal bands like Iron Maiden and Slayer [even Venom] were a lot of what we were listening to in the van on tour, at home. At a certain point we were actually good enough players to add that influence into our music. You also get sick of playing the same small clubs across America. In fact, we all pre-dated the Seattle grunge thing by years as it was - if nothing else - Metal meets Punk. We were even scheduled to play with Metallica and WASP. You could hear the same thing we did to our sound in SSD and The FU's.
Question: What were the reasons for DYS calling it quit?
Jonathan Anastas: As we moved into a more Metal sound, we began to attract some major label attention. Back then, without grunge, they didn't know what to do with us. We were told you look Punk and play Metal. You need to look Metal or play Punk. No one will buy it the way it is today. Imagine saying that to Soundgarden or Nirvana or Alice Cooper? We began to fight about what is selling out our musical tastes began to fracture so far that no one of us could write a song the other 4 agreed on. Thus, knowing we could go no farther, we broke up.
Question: Would you ever consider a DYS reunion?
Jonathan Anastas: Of course. I love every guy in that band. It would have to be a one time summer thing as - bluntly - I make too much money with what I do today to ever stop and do DYS full time. Not without a major label contract. I miss music very much and have spent the past year buying vintage Gibsons and Marshalls with the hope of putting another band together here in LA.
Question: What were the circumstances surround Slapshot becoming a reality?
Jonathan Anastas: Choke, Mark and Steve had already put the core of Slapshot together. I knew Choke quite well and missed the ritual of playing in a band. Despite my musical hesitations [back to simple Hardcore], my desire to play again and my respect for Choke won out. I thought the formula was unique and had a chance.
Question: Some people hail "Back on the Map" as the rebirth of the Boston scene. Was it really that dead?
Jonathan Anastas: From a Hardcore perspective, it was. All the bands which made Boston had broken up. There were a few pretender bands kicking around, but the scene had gone from Hardcore to Metal to dead. The plan was to be as old school and confrontational as possible - almost like a wrestling thing. Choke would come out on the stage with the hockey stick, hit people, etc. Within three shows, we were selling out clubs opening for touring national acts.
Question: I heard you had t-shirts made with the slogan "Boston - Where Men Are Men and the Meat's Served Red". Any truth to that? Might have been after you left though.
Jonathan Anastas: I've seen them, but yes, it came after I left. There was this whole deadpan humor thing always in Boston. The what can we do to piss off Johnny Hardcore do it in a way that they would have no idea it was a joke. I think a lot of that came from the anti-rock star anti-conformer thing. A couple of years ago, I read an interview with Pete Townsend who was talking about how he was angry at the fans for liking him and wanting to be with him without really knowing him. He kept treating them worse and worse and they kept coming back for more. This was Slapshot in the early days - how bad could we be to you. And people ate it up. It got pretty bad.
Question: What other bands have you been in besides Slapshot?
Jonathan Anastas: DYS. My first high school band [Decadence] had a cut on the "This Is Boston, Not LA" record called "Slam" which turned into an MTV promo in the 90s.
Question: Why did you leave the band in 1986? And have you had any contact with the guys in the band since?
Jonathan Anastas: First, I left in late 1987 or early 1988 I think. As fun as the whole band existence was from a friendship perspective, I was kind of chafing at the musical limitations of Slapshot. Added to that, I was in college and the band was beginning to hurt my studies. So I quit. I actually came back for one show over a year after leaving when Jordan broke his wrist. Aside from the issues over money with Steve, I've had contact with no one but Jack. I see him about every year or so when I go back to Boston.
Question: What did you do after leaving Slapshot? Did you ever join any other bands?
Jonathan Anastas: College and my career in advertising been a sole focus.
Question: Have you heard any material Slapshot issued after you leaving the band? And what do you think of it?
Jonathan Anastas: I think it's been both great and not so great. Some of the stuff like the album with the cover of "White Rabbit" is amazing [the Jordan/Jamie lineup is the best and way better than the version I played in] as was Choke's stab at sample-based Metal ["Blast Furnace"?]. The new sound old school to play more shows in Europe stuff is kind of generic.
Question: When it comes to record sales, how many copies did you roughly sell and did you ever make any money out of it? And do you in any way still receive any royalties [if there ever were any]?
Jonathan Anastas: I have no accurate counts due to record label issues. My best guess is this: all the DYS stuff in every pressing in every version totaled to about 50,000 units. The Slapshot stuff I was on shipped between 10,000 and 20,000 units. I seem to get royalties about every two years or so [not reliably]. The checks are down to $500 - $600 each.
Question: What are you up to these days?
Jonathan Anastas: I live in the Hollywood Hills in LA. I'm an executive at an advertising agency and have worked in this field for 11 years. I still play music and collect guitars. I'll still go to shows if there is someone I know in the band and will hang out back stage with them. It's amazing how tight everyone seems to be and how much people remember those days. I've walked up to people I haven't seen in 10 years and gotten amazingly friendly reactions: The Misfits, The Bosstones, The Buzzcocks, Steve Jones, Shelter, Downset, dozens more. I also am into cars. I have a fully restored 1968 Plymouth Road Runner with 375 horsepower, a 1950 hot rod Ford truck with over 500 horsepower and a 300 horsepower Cadillac. The tattoos keep growing too. And I've recently written 6 songs with members of SSD and Last Rights.
Question: What your take on the more militant wing of Straight Edge?
Jonathan Anastas: Which sort? The vegetarian/leftist/no leather side can fucking blow me. It's not what the movement was about. It was about not altering your reality, not weakening your mind. The confidence to walk in a bar full of drunken red necks and know you can kill them with your hands. I have no idea what wearing plastic shoes has to do with that.
Question: Where you ever vegetarian?
Jonathan Anastas: No, never.
Question: I heard that vegetarians weren't that popular in the old Boston Straight Edge? I heard that they were usually picked for being vegetarian. Any truth to that?
Jonathan Anastas: There were not any in the close group of bands to even make fun of. That was a later version of Straight Edge which came later. In our day, only Hippies ate no meat. Choke used to announce on stage: If there are vegetarians out there, good. More meat for me.
Question: I heard that the track "Dealing with Pennies" was about you and $400 dollars that you allegedly claimed that the band owed you. What's the deal concerning that?
Jonathan Anastas: I'm sure that's what the song is about. Without the whole nasty back story: checks were cut from Taang! Records for royalties, I never saw my share, court papers were filed, angry conversations were had, threats were made [for years], compromises were reached, monies were paid, equipment changed hands, end of story... until the song came out. In hindsight, using today's value of money, was losing a long friendship with Steve Risteen worth a few dollars, no? At that time, it seemed like a lot [I was in college and not working] and the right thing seemed to be not letting go. In the end, yes I was owed money and I was going to get it. How much was the final negotiated amount? $400? I have no idea.
Question: What do you think of the Boston scene these days? Are you in any way a part of it?
Jonathan Anastas: I really can't tell you from 3,000 miles away. I hear there was a crew period with gangs. I only see/know people who were around from 1981 to 1987.
Question: Are you still into Hardcore and are you into any new bands? Boston seems to have a couple of great bands on the way up [Last in Line spring to mind].
Jonathan Anastas: I wonder if Godsmack or Stained were in any way related to the Hardcore scene. No idea. Though I'm assuming you are talking about Ten Yard Fight and those bands. Never heard them. I listen to lots of new heavy music [not Hardcore] like Buckcherry, Godsmack, New American Shame, old 80's stuff [Metal, Punk], retro rock like the Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz and I'm just starting to get into electronica. The bands which changed my life and I'll love forever include: The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Kiss [the bands that made me want to play music], The Clash and The Sex Pistols [found Punk], Black Flag, SSD, Bad Brains [the best Hardcore had to offer].
Question: Are you still Straight Edge?
Jonathan Anastas: I haven't put a drug in my body in over 17 years. Or smoked cigarettes. I have - on occasion - enjoyed a great glass of wine with a meal, a toast with a client or a cigar over a closed deal. If it gets in the way of living my life and earning a living, I can't be ham strung by the inability to have a drink. And I just got paid to model in a Japanese ad campaign for Lucky Strike. So, while I'm sure I fail the pure litmus test, the core values of the movement still live with me in a very real way every day.
Question: And what's your take on the Straight Edge movement? Is it something to be True till death about, just a rebellious youth movement or something in between?
Jonathan Anastas: I think it's really powerful option for kids because it offers an alternative to the prevailing and persistent [since the 60's] youth culture based on abuse of drugs and alcohol as a passage into adulthood. If it's agreed that we all fail to keep away from peer pressure, now you can be equally pressured into NOT drinking. Kids aware of their world is a much more powerful thought. Look how the boomers ruined their own drugged youth movement and went on to ruin their lives [like Bill Clinton]. Would you want to live like that? That whole DIY/Straight Edge thing has had a huge impact on every facet of my life from professional to personal. I try to bring that passion and purity of vision into my job, my music, my relationships.
Question: Any last words?
Jonathan Anastas: I'm always amazed by the way people from the American Hardcore scene re-appear in much of my life on a regular basis. Most of us seem to work in pop culture now [advertising, fashion, music, publishing, film, TV]. I go into Toys R Us and see The Misfits dolls next to Pokemon. If I have achieved anything in my life, it's because of those days and what I learned.