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Would it kill you to smile? (l-r) Mike Valente, Sean Green, Rich Roberts and Rory O’Brien of Brick by Brick.

photo:Joe Putrock

Trigger Heavy
By Bill Ketzer

With help from his booking connections with Hudson Duster, Mike Valente and Brick by Brick pound out their own definition of hardcore—and find plenty of places to play it

 

Mike Valente knows a thing or two about hardcore. As owner or Troy’s Hudson Duster, it could be argued that he has breathed new life into the genre in the Capital Region. But while some would be content to sit tight, keep the liquor tab paid and enjoy a rewarding (albeit sometimes controversial) investment, Valente felt he had unfinished business. The demise of his local brawlers the Bruise Brothers left a bad taste in his mouth, so one night in 2004 he looked around his nightclub for a new hope and a new direction. Fifteen minutes later, he found both.

“The Bruise Brothers had signed a deal with a management company, and it totally changed the band,” he recalls. “It just wasn’t anything even remotely close to what we were trying to do in the beginning. And I discovered something: I hate radio rock. That’s what they wanted us to be, and I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ ”

So the guitarist walked over to Rory O’Brien, fresh out of metalcore band .357 Justice, to gauge his interest in starting something new. “I knew he was a good drummer, so we started talking about influences, and we found we were both into bands like Sick of It All and Agnostic Front. Then we grabbed Sean, who was sitting down at the other end of the bar.”

“A random night at the Duster,” bassist Sean Green says of the night they formed Brick by Brick. “It just clicked. Before we even looked for a singer we nailed down a bunch of songs, and then Kevin from Wasteform turned us on to Rich.”

For the trio of fast friends, Rich Roberts—a brooding, growling powerhouse with no reservations about stepping into the spotlight—was a no-brainer. “I took their songs home, learned them, added my lyrics, came back with my PA and sang, and they said, ‘You can just leave your stuff here,’” he says.

“The classic ‘you-got-a-PA-so-you-can-stay’ trick,” says Green, his laughter contagious and almost startling for a guy whose band offers up such pleasant ditties as “Fuckmouth” and “Tearing Down” at oxygen-depleting volumes. “I had just started another project, but I’m so lazy, I didn’t want to carry my gear back and forth, so finally I just said, ‘Fuck it, I’m leaving it here.’ ”

“So due to laziness we ended up with Sean on bass,” says Valente. “But seriously, it clicked in a big way, and it still clicks. We write quickly. The formula works for us.” It worked so well that after only a few short months together, the first Brick By Brick full-length CD, Pull the Trigger, was released despite a few minor setbacks.

“We had a CD-release party in November 2004,” Green remembers. “But as usual the CDs [didn’t] show up. We advertised that the first 200 at the door got free CDs, but we only wound up with 200 total at the show.”

“The guy that was pressing them works for Sony,” Valente explains. “Our release date was right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which is the busiest time of year for the recording industry, so somehow our stuff got mixed up with Justin Timberlake’s! Some poor bastard in an Indiana distribution house was like, ‘What the fuck?’ ”

Back home, the band began grabbing up opening slots for major acts like Anthrax, 25 Ta Life and Murphy’s Law. And as owner of one of the area’s few hardcore-metal clubs, Valente found himself in a position to negotiate a lot of work for the Troy foursome, offering shows in the Collar City in return for shows anywhere from Rhode Island to Nantucket.

“Hell yeah, it has certainly worked out well,” he says. “If I give a band a show here, I book at least one for us out of town every time. That’s how this works, how else can you do it really?”

But Nantucket?

“That was different,” O’Brien says. “My girlfriend’s sister. . . . Her boyfriend lives out on the island. I was out there in July and I brought a bunch of CDs with me. Why not? Sure enough, a guy on MySpace contacted us through Murderer’s Row, who are coming with us, and that was that.”

At this point Green expresses his relief over missing said show due to a prior commitment (Joe Keyser from Skinless will be filling his shoes). “I’m just glad I don’t have to take the two-hour boat ride,” he says. “I hate boats.”

“Aww, you’re a bad boat guy?” Valente asks in mock baby-talk.

“Boats and planes,” comes the reply, and Green draws a finger across his neck. “I’m like Mr. T, you have to knock me out before you put me on a plane.”

So it will be cars and U-Hauls come spring when Brick by Brick hit both coasts with SubZero and San Francisco’s Sangra Eterna, a new project assembled by former Machine Head/Testament drummer Chris Contos. This will mark the first time Brick By Brick have played the West Coast, taking advantage of distribution they enjoy after contributing tracks to compilations released on western labels. “We got a song on a good comp from a Texas label called 8-Piece Records,” Valente says. “It’s called Burned in Baghdad, and that’s something where all the proceeds are sent to support the troops overseas. We have another on Lineup Records out of Arizona with Harley’s War, 25 Ta Life and Northside Kings. Back east we have a song on a compilation from Jamie Jasta’s Stillborn label. We have a lot of friends on that comp, there’s some great shit on it. . . . Unreleased Hatebreed material, Full Blown Chaos, Icepick, Danny Diablo, Scurvy . . . just a lot of good hardcore.”

Once home, the studio beckons again. Last August, the outfit recorded new material with renowned hardcore producer- engineer Don Fury at Cyclone Sound in New York City for a potential split CD with Long Island’s Neglect. Since that time, however, Neglect found themselves in the market for a new label and a full-length CD, so Brick by Brick plan to hammer out a slew of new tunes locally, adding to the Fury sessions for another full-length of their own.

“Fury has done them all,” Valente says. “Sick of It All, Agnostic Front, Madball, Helmet, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today . . . basically every big hardcore band of the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a workout.”

“He made us work hard. . . . I worked my ass off,” Green says. “He wouldn’t settle for something we would settle for, which was great. If he thought it could be laid down better, tighter, he sent us back to do it. It was a great experience.”

One song from the sessions, “Toe to Toe,” recently was singled out for the band’s first video. “It’s a cool video,” says Green. “Mastodon Media did it, Rich Flavin and Jim Fresh. It has a good storyline, not just us playing live. The only disappointment was that we had shot some killer live footage here at the Duster and it never got used. It just didn’t jibe with what we had planned.”

“Like with Cyclone though, it was nice to have a point of view outside the band looking in,” Valente adds. “Because if we did it the way we wanted it probably wouldn’t have been half as good.”

Green concurs. “Oh, just cheesy. All of us standing in front of a brick wall dancing or something.” But one thing they do for themselves is work hard and keep a realistic eye toward the future. Their working-class upbringing has given them both conviction and a strong sense of practicality.

“I don’t think anyone is ever able to quit [a] job while playing hardcore,” Roberts claims. “I think Hatebreed filled that niche. It’s great where they went.”

“I used to watch them when they played around here in the clubs,” adds Green. “When I was in Straight Jacket they’d open up for us, we’d open for them. Now they’re just huge. It’s cool to see where they got playing the music they’re playing. They never changed.”

But what has changed is the definition of hardcore. The inevitable hand of commerce has finally snatched up what was once a purely street-level phenomenon, something the band members view with a cross between amusement and mild disgust. “Last time we played in Massachusetts, we told the guy who booked us we were a hardcore band,” Green recalls. “Then we went out and played, and he said, ‘You should start booking yourselves as a metal band, because the hardcore definition has changed.’ Now hardcore is guys wearing their sister’s pants with the hair, the eyeliner and the nail polish. Bands with sentences for names. The Hot Topic hardcore.”

“You worry about that because everyone has their own definition now,” says Roberts. But what happened to those traditions, to classic New York City hardcore, the street-tough, unassailable penchant for redemption through brotherhood and brutality that propelled bands like Hatebreed to the top of the genre?

“It’s still here,” Roberts says. “As long as people have shitty lives, it will be here. Hardcore attracts people with shitty lives. That’s pretty much what it’s about.”

“I listen to the radio, and all I hear is that stupid Nickelback song about driving and getting a blow job,” Valente says. “You’re not gonna hear about that in our songs.”

“Now, if you wanna hear about your girlfriend giving someone else a blow job. . . ” says Green.

“. . . and how you want to kill her,” adds Roberts as everyone breaks up. “Maybe we’d write something like that, but either way you’re gonna hear a big difference in lyrical content.”

O’Brien claims that it boils down to representing the trials they’ve been through in life, what is witnessed from day to day. “This has always been a way to vent things out,” he says. “It’s a release. No matter how hard a week we’ve had, we go downstairs and do our thing, and we all leave smiling. It’s always a good vibe. You can leave it there instead of taking it with you into life.”

“Even without the lyrics, the music is just so heavy,” says Green. “You can’t help but feel better.”

“If I didn’t have a guitar, I’d have a gun,” Valente says. “It really provides a balance for me, truly. We had a bad end to 2005, so you can expect these new songs to be brutal. They’ll tell what happened. Deaths, broken bones, drunken wrestling, spilled beer . . .”

“We get our frustrations out through music rather than through crime or drugs,” says Roberts. “That and watching 200 kids kicking ass to something you’ve created. Pretty good feeling.”

Brick by Brick’s new CD is tentatively scheduled for release in late spring 2006. For more information on the band, visit myspace.com/brickbybrick or myspace.com/hudsonduster.


ROUGH MIX

PARTY FOR THE CAUSE On Saturday (Feb. 25), do your part to support artists from still-recovering Katrina-ravaged New Orleans by attending a Mardi Gras benefit party, called Compassion, held by Pittsfield, Mass.-based arts collective the Storefront Artist Project. According to SAP press, they are working to “bring New Orleans artists to Pittsfield this summer to reinvigorate their artistic hearts and souls.” Donations collected will directly benefit this specific goal. The benefit will feature fun treats like Southern-style fare catered by Ruth Bronz and Jennie Fink; American roots musician and New Orleans native Chip Wilson, with Jeff Haynes of Pat Metheny Group; and Sean Harkness of Windham Hill Recordings. After dark, three New York City DJs (Blockhead, Ninjatune, and funk-soul DJ L-Train) will provide the soundtrack for a dance party. The party will take place at the Howard Building (124-126 Fenn St., Pittsfield, Mass.). Tickets are $25 at the door starting at 7:30 PM; admission reduces to $10 after 10 PM. SAP are enlisting the help of volunteers for the event. If you’re interested in volunteering, call Maggie at (413) 441-5981. For more information on this benefit and the SAP, visit storefrontartist.com.

IT’S A HOLIDAY! (WE’RE GONNA HAVE A CELEBRATION) Longtime area favorites Super 400 will celebrate 10 whole years of making music together this Saturday (Feb. 25) at 10 PM at the Ale House (680 River St.) in Troy. That’s right, it was in February 1996 that the group jammed in an old warehouse on River Street in Troy and pretty much instantaneously became a band. Since then, they’ve played as a trio throughout the decade, in addition to doing session work and side projects with other artists here and there. They’ve released critically acclaimed albums and rocked out at hundreds of shows. And if that’s not enough, here’s the mark of success: Troy mayor Harry Tutunjian has proclaimed that Feb. 25 will be Super 400 Day in Troy to honor the band for their decade of contributions to the music and arts communities. According to band press, Mayor Tutunjian “is proud of his hometown and likes to recognize the achievements of other native sons and daughters.” Ronni James of the Tech Valley Times once wrote, “Simply put, Super 400 has zeroed in on the lost art of the rock & roll power trio, and mastered it in the process.” Congratulations to Kenny Hohman, Lori Friday and Joe Daley of Super 400 on 10 years of rock & roll. For more information on Super 400, visit super400.com.

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF, WELL, TWO Area alt-rocker Joe Nacco will celebrate the release of his fourth album in three years, Requiem for Civilization, with not one, but two CD-release parties at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany)—one solo and one with a full band. Nacco says that his purpose for doing this is so audiences can experience two versions of the album. The full band show will be on Friday, March 3 ($5); the solo show will be on March 10 ($3). The first 25 people in the door for each show will receive a free copy of the disc. For more information on Joe Nacco, visit joenacco.com.

LIGHTS . . . CAMERA . . . ACTION ACTION! Swedish band the Sounds have confirmed a 40-date North American tour (including a stop at this year’s SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas) after a successful tour of Scandinavia. The tour will coincide with the release of their new album, Dying to Say This to You, coming out March 21 on Scratchie/New Line Records. Now what, you may be asking yourself, does this have to do with local music? Well, it just so happens that a band from Long Island called Action Action will be a support band for the entire tour (along with New York City alt-rockers Morningwood), and a couple of the Action Action boys—Clarke Foley and Adam Manning, to be specific—were in the locally successful pop-punk band Count the Stars. You remember them, don’t you? After Count the Stars got signed to Victory Records, the band soon fizzled, and Foley and Manning joined Mark Thomas Kluepfel and Danny Leo to form Action Action in 2004. The band’s debut release on Victory, Don’t Cut Your Fabric to This Year’s Fashion, sold more than 50,000 records, and the boys just followed it up with their sophomore album, An Army of Shapes Between Wars, which was released in January. So it looks like our hometown boys are on the rise, and we wish them luck on their big upcoming tour. For more information on Action Action, visit action-action.com. MARCHING TO THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER Pittsfield, Mass.-based pop princes Hector on Stilts have inducted a new drummer into their lineup: none other than Albany’s (and Metroland’s) own John Brodeur. Brodeur (of the Suggestions and Five Alpha Beatdown) has replaced previous drummer Jay Schultheis. Catch the new HOS lineup at their next local show at the Skyline (90 N. Pearl St., Albany) on March 16 before they embark on a tour that will involve a cross-country trip to venues in cities like Hollywood and Tucson. In other news, Hector on Stilts are actively seeking Hecterns (ahem, interns) to help with all the work it takes to keep a band going. To learn more about HOS and available Hecternships, visit hectoronstilts.com.

—Kathryn Lurie



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