Recently I was lucky enough to catch Sick Of It All put on an amazing show alongside The Vices, Flatfoot 56, Devil’s Brigade and Street Dogs at a venue in Orlando called Firestone Live. Beforehand I was honored to interview one of my long time heroes, Lou Koller, front man for legendary New York hardcore band Sick Of It All. He tore it up on stage and is definitely one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.
In the interview we discussed the progression of hardcore music, roots, a surprising tour story and more. It’s definitely worth checking out so what are you waiting for? Read it here.
DS: I saw a hilarious sign outside. “No Moshing, No Crowd Surfing”. How long do you think it’ll take for those rules to be broken? They do know it’s a Sick of it All show right?
Lou: Yeah, it’s funny. We asked about that when we got here. The guy goes “That’s just for insurance purposes. To keep the insurance man happy. We let people dance and do whatever they want.” That’s a pretty high stage though, I don’t know if people should be stage diving off of it.
DS: Good point. Your latest album “Based on a True Story” came out last April. There’s a song on it called “A Month of Sundays” about famous punk venue CBGB and old hardcore matinee shows. What’s the most memorable CBGB show that you can remember?
Lou: Oh, there are a lot of them! The first time I saw Agnostic Front there way back in 1985 it was my second show. It was funny because I had really long hair back then. I think it was a tribute to Agnostic Front, they all shaved their heads. They just accepted you. That’s what drew us to CBGB’s. No matter how you looked they just were like “Hey, come on to the show, have fun.” That’s what drew us to hardcore, CBGB’s. That’s why we wrote the song it was such a positive thing in our lives.
DS: What are some of the most memorable shows that you’ve played? Anything special or crazy?
Lou: Every time we played there it was great. I remember the very first time we headlined. We lived in Queens and I remember we drove over the Williamsburg Bridge to the City. As we were turning the street onto Bowery (the street that CBGB is on) we were saying “Man, I hope people show up!” and there was a line around the block! We were like like “Oh My God” because it was so exciting that people were coming to see us at the club that we loved so much.
Then the last hardcore show they had there was us, Agnostic Front, Madball and Murphy’s Law. It was just so much fun to play CB’s one more time and have the crowd sing all of our songs. You know, it wasn’t even sad that CB’s was closing because it was so much fun. Then two days later when I drove past it and the doors were shut and the windows were boarded up, that’s when I got really sad.
DS: You’ve been playing for 24 years. You’ve traveled to all kinds of different places around the U.S., UK, Europe Singapore etc… Do you think traveling to all of these different places and learning about all kinds of people has changed your perspective on anything?
Lou: Oh definitely, it’s broadened our minds. I mean even since our first tour traveling in different parts of the U.S. and when we first got to Europe, when you talk to different people. It makes you think more globally. Instead of just thinking about yourself or your city, you think about how things affect everybody around the world. It makes you more open-minded. There’s an old saying “Travel Broadens the Mind.” and it’s true.
DS: I remember hearing something about an all Muslim “Sick of it All” tribute band or something like that. Could you tell me more about that?
Lou: I think that was in Singapore. It was funny because in Singapore there’s a big Muslim population there. A lot of the people that came to the show there were Muslim. It didn’t matter to them, they loved our music! It was an all female, Muslim hardcore band that did Sick of it All songs. We were amazed. They came up to us with the head-dresses and everything. They said, “We’ve been waiting fifteen years to see you!” The lead singer was there and she was pregnant She goes, “I was supposed to give birth today but thank god I didn’t.” I was like “oh my god!” We’re not millionaires, we don’t sell a million records but to touch someone that deeply. She was about to give birth but she was happy she didn’t just so she could come see us. It just really makes you feel good, you know?
DS: That’s crazy! Well you’ve been in the scene since the 80’s and a lot of things have changed since then. To me hardcore has always been rooted in punk and metal. Today, I feel like things get labeled hardcore that don’t really have to do with punk. What do you think about that? I know it’s a broad question but what does hardcore mean to you?
Lou: To us, hardcore was always about being open-minded but musically I like when people add different things to it. Like the Bad Brains. They had reggae mixed in with hardcore and punk. Our roots are in the early hardcore punk sound of Minor Threat, Negative Approach and Bad Brains.
Some of the younger bands, they are into the metal side. I think it’s good to add stuff but I don’t like when you try and play them something like Negative Approach and they say, “Oh this isn’t heavy.” Back then it was the heaviest sound you could have. Respect roots. It’s like back when we were young and my dad would play us Johnny Cash and say “Listen to the Words. It might not be the music you like but listen to what he’s saying.” It’s true words can be as heavy as music. When people add different stuff and mix the music up, to me it makes it better. It prolongs the life of the scene. Don’t forget where it came from. I know like GBH or early punk bands don’t sound the heaviest like Hatebreed or whatever but if you give it a chance it’s really good.
DS: Speaking of old school, on your first full-length album “Blood Sweat and No Tears”, there’s a song, “Clobbering Time,” that has an intro by the hip-hop artist KRS-One. How did that come about?
Lou: My brother’s girlfriend worked at a recording studio. I asked her “Who is at the recording studio this month?” and she goes, “Some Rap guy KRS-One. I said “Oh Boogie Down Productions, I know them.” She was like “Really?” She told him (KRS-One). “My boyfriend’s little brother’s band loves you.” She said it was funny because we were a bunch of hardcore punk kids. KRS was like, “Hardcore punk kids love my music?” “I gotta meet these guys. Bring them down.”
We all went down. He loved us. We gave him the lyrics to injustice system and he said “Wow, you guys are talking about some really heavy stuff. Our drummer Armand goes “Would you say something on the record for us? You have to say Blastmaster. KRS One – “Oh you guys know the old stuff?”
Every time we cross paths it’s really cool. He still remembers us. Two years ago I remember watching a TV show and they asked him what music he listened to besides hip-hop and he said “Aww, you wouldn’t know them.” “It’s a band called Sick of it All.” It’s great he still remembers us!
DS: I keep finding weird connections between hardcore punk and hip hop like that. Do you think there’s any connection between the hardcore and hip-hop scene?
Lou: I can only speak for our experiences growing up in New York. The rap scene and the hardcore punk scene started to grow at the same time in New York. A lot of the guys from the rap scene would come downtown to perform. They would play clubs like CBGB or another club called “Great Glidersleeve” or the “Peppermint Lounge.” All the kids with mohawks would always go there. We used to go to a club called Danceteria. It was in a Madonna movie once. It was a place she used to hang out at. Every Thursday night though they would have free punk shows. So a lot of the hip-hop guys would be there for the one hip hop floor and go down stairs and be like “oh my god this is crazy.” It was really cool how they just meshed in the underground but then rap took a way more commercial turn. More people would rather hear about partying and dancing then the woes of the world.
DS: Your 25 year anniversary is coming up next. Do you have any special plans for that?
Lou: We have a bunch of ideas. Its stuff we want to get done but we’re touring so much, it’s finding the time. When we do have time off my wife and I just had a baby, she’s four months old. When I’m home I want to spend time with my baby. It makes it hard also because my brother Pete lives down here in Daytona Beach and we’re trying to get him to come back up to New York so we can do stuff.
DS: (Laughs) You say that like it’s a bad thing. That means you get to play more shows down here! Alright! (I’m from Florida)
Lou Koller: (Laughs) We’d like to yeah!
DS: Snapcase is back together. They’ve played a few shows in Europe and other places. You think you guys will cross paths again? Tour? Are those guys still an active hardcore band?
Lou: They did a big reunion show up in Buffalo. We used to take them out. We took them all across and as an opening act in Europe too. They are good friends of ours and it was a fun thing for us to play their reunion show in Buffalo. I know they are playing a bunch of hardcore festivals. John, their guitar player is a good friend of mine and they’ve written a bunch of songs but they don’t know if they are going to record anything. As far as tours I don’t know.
DS: Is there anything else you’d like to accomplish as a band?
Lou: For us it’s just about the longevity, you know? We want to keep going as long as its fun and people are into it. It’s easier for us in Europe for some reason. The fans that we’ve made from 1992 are now bringing their kids to our shows.
In America it seems different. We have a change in audience. There are still some old school fans, but getting younger kids into your band is very hard.
DS: (Laughs) Hey, but there’s always me!
Lou: There are kids who even if a band sounds exactly like us they would rather hear bands closer to their age. We just want to keep going as long as it’s fun for us. When we went to write this new record we didn’t know what to expect but when Pete and Armand started playing their songs and I said “Oh this is going to be a good record!” We had the problem with trying to compete with “Death to Tyrants”. We did really well with that record. In our head we had to be better than that last record. It’s not easy.
DS: Do you think there are any bands that deserve more attention? New or older bands that you think people should know about?
Lou: (Nods at my shirt) 7Seconds for one. They are playing shows again. Wisdom In Chains, My Turn To Win, Madball has a new record coming out, The Vices from Daytona Beach, I love their singer’s Karl’s voice. He sounds kinda like the guy from the Bronx. A band from California called Nails, Hellmouth, Inhuman.
DS: That’s pretty much all I had. It’s great to meet you!
Lou: It is great to meet YOU!
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