Last Friday, No Use For A Name teamed up with their longtime label home, Fat Wreck Chords, for the release of Rarities Vol. 1: The Covers. If the release somehow slipped under your radar, the first thing you should take note of is that it’s a collection of a large number of the covers that the band recorded throughout their twenty-plus year career, especially those that didn’t make it onto one of their eight studio full-lengths. Perhaps more noteworthy, however, is that it’s the first release of No Use For A Name material since the passing of their iconic frontman Tony Sly just a hair over five years ago.
To mark the occasion, Dying Scene caught up with NUFAN’s founding drummer Rory Koff for a lengthy, good-hearted interview over the phone last Sunday afternoon. And while we covered a lot of ground in a our rapid fire conversation — Koff has more than a little bit of a “shot out of a cannon” nature to him — the focal point that the boomerang that was our conversation continually returned too was, as you might imagine, the legacy of his fallen friend and former bandmate. And that’s for good reason. Koff, who currently lives and owns two businesses in the Lake Tahoe area of California, started No Use in 1986 alongside Chris Judge and longtime bassist Steve Papoustis; Sly joined up three years later and together he and Koff remained the two constant core members of the band for more than two decades.
“He was really like a brother, almost literally, because I spent so much time with him,” says Koff. In a lot of ways, we’ve become seemingly desensitized to musicians, especially frontmen, leaving us all too soon. Occasionally one of those deaths stings a little more than the others, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Tony Sly. For a lot of us, Sly’s death was the first time — at least since Brad Nowell’s passing in 1996 — that a major voice from our formative musical years had passed on. The pain was real, and palpable, and still lingers half a decade later. “Everyone has friends that have passed away, but when someone leaves an impact on a lot of people, it intensifies a little bit. For me,” says Koff, “Tony’s passing affected me differently. Maybe because I spent twenty years in hotels with him and went everywhere together and sat next to him on planes and knew his family and knew his wife’s family and knew his kid. We were so close. It weighed on me a lot more than other people that I’ve known that have passed away.”
Koff, it should probably be pointed out, took a break from all things No Use For A Name in early 2011, after a quarter-century of touring and recording. There’s a bit of hesitation in Koff’s voice when he reflects on his decision to step away, particularly with the hindsight knowledge that Sly would be gone a year-and-a-half later. “The timing…boy, my timing…” Koff hesitates, taking a reflective pause before continuing in rapid-fire mode. “(Call it) my hiatus, call it whatever you want to, but I just needed a break. I had never gotten a break. Twenty-seven years of being in a band I never had more than a full month’s time away from those guys. It was so intense, and so much happened and came to a head, and it wasn’t anything personal and it wasn’t like an argument happened and it wasn’t any one thing. I just needed a break. I think everyone needed a break. But Tony just wanted to keep it going. I just needed a break.” Astute followers of NUFAN will probably recall that the band’s most recent addition, guitar player Chris Rest (also of Lagwagon fame) was still the a new recruit. More importantly, their bass player, Matt Riddle, had been hospitalized around that time for pancreatitis, meaning that the band was in a state of real flux. “I just kept saying “what’s the rush? Matt’s in the hospital, what’s the rush?” And he’s like “well if you’re not gonna do it, we’ll find somebody else.” And I said “well, I’m not going to do it because we don’t need to.” And that was it.”
The two would continue to talk and remain friendly, but wouldn’t play together again. Sly, of course, broadened his presence as a touring singer/songwriter, putting out two stellar solo album (2010’s Twelve Song Program and 2011’s Sad Bear“) in addition to a couple of splits with Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape and a fun collaborative album with Cape, Jon Snodgrass and Brian Wahlstrom under the Scorpios moniker over what would turn out to be the last few years of his life. Five years on, Koff has difficulty listening to some of No Use’s catalog, and has particular trouble with Sly’s solo material. “I can’t listen to his solo stuff. I may never listen to it again. It’s way too gnarly. The subject matter is so very heartfelt. It’s tough…” he says, trailing off again. “More than anything is that Tony’s vocals haunt me in an eerie way. It’s like…fuck…Tony is so present in my life sometimes and yet so not present. It’s a really bizarre thing. I’m not the only one, you can talk to the other guys in the band, and they’ll have similar situations. It still doesn’t seem real, because it’s so intense, and it shouldn’t be like that.”
It seemed like Tony Sly’s voice was everywhere in this scene for a while, and then, all of a sudden, it was gone. The death of a particularly beloved and thoughtful songwriter in the midst of a prolific period of his life stings for most parties involved, but doesn’t cloud the legacy he left in his wake. Fans and friends in the NUFAN circle continued to look to his catalog for support. And while Sly had a way of channeling some really heavy, intense feelings, he was also an awful lot of fun. The band recorded more than their fair share of cover songs, some of which ended up on studio albums, some of which appeared only on random compilations, and some of which never really saw the light of day.
Until now, of course. Over the last year or so, work started on a compiling all of No Use’s material in a variety of different forms. The first release to see the light of day is, of course, a collection of a baker’s dozen of the cover songs No Use recorded that didn’t appear on one of their studio albums. That means no “Redemption Song,” no collaboration with Cinder Block on The Pogues’ classic “Fairytale Of New York.” But don’t worry, there’s plenty of fun stuff to go around. “It actually came together really easy,” as Koff tells it. “Fat Mike, I knew, wanted to do it. He knew that we had a bunch of songs and he asked if there were any songs that we were missing. We kept searching and kept looking, because we just knew there was more stuff, but it had to fit the criteria of not making it onto an album. With the exception of that, it was all pretty easy…There wasn’t a whole lot to it other than just keeping it simple and fun and not doing too much.” While it doesn’t mean new, previously-unreleased No Use For A Name material, it does at least give fans a chance to hear Tony Sly’s voice and guitar playing again in a release that’s fun and not overly heavy (though the cover of Sublime’s “Badfish” is more than a little haunting in hindsight).
Given that the title of the covers compilation includes “Vol. 1” in the title, it’s more than a little obvious that there’s more in store. Koff opened up and gave us a hint of what’s to come. He’s helping Fat Wreck with a still-unannounced project concerning the No Use For A Name legacy that’s much larger in scale, and will hopefully see the light of day in the early part of 2018. Following that, if all goes according to plan, is an equally cool project — and equally major effort.
Koff’s brother, you see, is a documentary filmmaker. Together, they’ve teamed up to compile a film chronicling the history of No Use For A Name. “We started working on it before Tony passed,” says Koff. After a bit of an obvious cooling-off period, the brothers Koff “decided to get it rolling again two years ago, and we put a ton of effort into it. We’ve got like 50 or 60 interviews. We’ve been digging up tapes for years, we’ve got almost everything we need.” The two are in the process of whittling hours and hours worth of material down to 70 usable and compelling minutes. What will hopefully follow is a sort of No Use And Friends reunion in a few select locations in order to give the two aforementioned projects — and the band’s legacy — the sort of fun-filled celebration they deserve. “I have grand visions of doing a two-week tour with the old members and getting one certain guest singer and doing all this stuff, but I’m realizing that there’s other people that have things coming out and there’s no way have everyone do two weeks,” says Koff. And while the grand visions may not come to fruition, that doesn’t mean there’s not a pretty awesome Plan B in the works. “I’m going to try to do two weekends and see if I can get my dream lineup together. Everyone said they’d be interested, but getting everyone’s weekends to line up is another story!”
Head below to check out the full text of our interview (albeit a little bit condensed for clarity’s sake). As indicated above, we cover an awful lot of ground, from the history of the band and their recording process to the origin of a lot of the covers involved to…bailing hay with Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman?!? We really like this one, and we think you will too.