No Regrets | Sick of it All

We do not want to be doing anything else. It’s better than working a nine-to-five job.

 

 

Read complete interview below 

After getting a few years and a couple albums under their belt, most bands are happy to settle into a comfortable rut. Not so with Lou Koller and his bandmates in Sick of It All, who after two decades as a band are just as fired up about Death to Tyrants, their ninth full-length studio album due out this April, as any of their previous releases.

“It’s definitely our best effort yet,” the singer reports proudly. “We’ve taken a lot of time in writing and recording it. It’s our best effort because there’s a lot riding on this record for us. We’re putting a lot into it because it’s coming out on our 20-year anniversary and we have to show everybody that it’s not just a fucking gimmick.”

Since brothers Lou and Pete Koller founded the band in the mid-’80s, Sick of It All has been the face of New York City hardcore, the big fish in a small scene often overshadowed by its much bigger cousins in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The band has persevered through many hardships, from cries that they sold out after a label switch to defending themselves from attacks after a Massachusetts teen shot and killed several classmates while wearing a Sick of It All t-shirt, and the band sees their new album as a chance to reach back out to some of the fans that have drifted away over the last few years.

The first step in their plan of attack was switching record labels, releasing Death to Tyrants on the hardcore label Abacus instead of Fat Wreck Chords, the label run by NOFX bassist Fat Mike that released Sick of It All’s last four albums but is better known for sunny pop-punk than the sledgehammer intensity that is the foursome’s bread and butter. “We were happy on Fat,” Koller explains, “but they couldn’t get us back in touch with a lot of our fans who were from more of the heavy metal side. [Fat] Mike treated us well, the label treated us well, but they didn’t know how to reach our hardcore audience. There are some fans that we lost over the last few years. We felt it was time for a change. Abacus was a label whose owners were big fans of the band, so that’s how we decided to go with them.”

Death to Tyrants features the same lineup fans have enjoyed since 1994’s Scratch the Surface, with the Koller brothers and founding drummer Armand Majidi joined by longtime bassist Craig Setari. This time out, though, the band’s political stance takes a more central role than on past recordings. “We’ve always had political songs on our records,” says Koller. “There’s a lot of anger, and it’s just come to the forefront. I believe that every administration, not just this one, lies to you to a certain extent, but this one doesn’t even try to hide it anymore. They just blatantly lie to you.”

It’s not righteous political anger, however, that has kept the band going all these years, but rather something far more basic. “As cheesy as it sounds,” Koller admits, “it’s the love of this music. We do not want to be doing anything else. It’s kept us young; it’s kept us alive. It’s better than working a nine-to-five job.”

When asked to recall some of his favorite moments from his 20 years in Sick of It All, Koller is quick to list some of the highlights. “There’s so many,” he begins. “When we started, we thought the big deal was to someday headline CBGBs and then break up. And then when we headlined CBs, it was amazing and we started getting offers to go all around the world. That just blew us away. The first time we played Argentina—that was fantastic. There were 80 kids waiting for us at the airport, crying because they couldn’t believe that we were coming to Argentina. For four guys from Queens, New York, we were like, ‘This is so surreal.’ We get to meet and play with heroes of ours. We got to tour with Slayer. In ’99, we got to meet Joe Strummer from the Clash; we played a festival with his band the Mescaleros. As we walked off stage, he said to us, ‘You guys are brilliant,’ and that was just a shock.”

When we caught up with Koller, he was preparing for a stint of shows open for infamous Boston punk rockers the Dropkick Murphys, a band that shares little aesthetically but are nearly identical philosophically. “That’s what I really respect about the Dropkicks,” Koller enthuses. “No matter how successful they get, they want to expose all these people to all the elements that made the Dropkick Murphys what they are today. To take a band like us out—we’re a very aggressive, hard rock band—I think is amazing.”

Is there an end of aggression in sight? “Not yet,” Koller insists. “We would joke around and say when we hit 20, that’ll be retirement. When we got here, we didn’t want to retire, so we were like, let’s push it back to maybe 25. We’ll see what happens.”

Despite plenty of setbacks along the way, Koller continues to look forward. “As far as the horrible stuff, there’s plenty: bad shows, bad business decisions. Hindsight being what it is, you wish that, yeah, maybe we should have started our own label back then and we’d be a lot richer for it. What are you going to do?” he concludes. “You can’t live on regret.”

 

The Complete Sick of It All Interview

By Jason Green

You’ve got a new album coming out in April; what can fans look forward to this time out?

It’s definitely our best effort yet. We’ve taken a lot of time in writing and recording. We always talk about doing a demo before doing an album, but then we get lazy and say, “Nah, let’s just fuck it and do the album.” But this time we took the time to do a demo, listened to it for three weeks, and then we went back and changed what we hated. It’s our best effort because there’s a lot riding on this record for us, as in personal stakes. We’re putting a lot into it because it’s coming out on our 20-year anniversary, and we have to show everybody that it’s not just a fucking gimmick.

In your bio, your drummer says there’s a political slant to a number of songs on the album because of your more desperate worldview you have nowadays. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Yes, it’s been going on since 9/11, just the way things have been handled throughout since then on. It’s just more to the forefront. We’ve always had political songs on our records. There’s a lot of anger, and it’s just come to the forefront. I believe that every administration, not just this one, lies to you to a certain extent, but this one doesn’t even try to hide it anymore. They just blatantly lie to you.

I bet you have an especially distinct view of it actually living in New York City

Definitely. It’s a trying time for everyone.

On the new album, you’re moving from Fat Wreck Chords to Abacus, what was that about?

We were happy on Fat, and it was good, but they couldn’t get us back in touch with a lot of our fans who were from more of the heavy metal side. [Fat] Mike, treated us well, the label treated us well, but they didn’t know how to reach our hardcore audience. There are some fans that we lost over the last few years. We felt it was time for a change. Abacus was a label whose owners were big fans of the band, so that’s how we decided to go with them.

When we first tried to set up an interview about a week and a half ago, you guys were in England. What’s the typical reaction like from European audiences toward American hard core?

They love it. It’s strange. They’re very into the whole idea of it’s not just like an underground phenomenon. To them, it’s just a legitimate form of music. You’re underground punk and hardcore there, but if the mainstream people come too, they just come in and they love it.

You guys are touring for your twentieth anniversary. After 20 years, what is it that keeps you guys going as a band, what keeps you fired up?

As cheesy as it sounds, it’s the love of this music. We do not want to be doing anything else. It’s kept us young; it’s kept us alive, it’s better than working a nine to five job.

Looking back over the last 20 years, what are some of your favorite moments, and what are some of the moments you’d rather forget?

There’s so many. When we started, we thought the big deal was to someday headline CBGBs and then breakup. And then when we headlined CBs, it was amazing and we started getting offers to go all around the world. That just blew us away. Over the years, like the first time we played Argentina, it was fantastic, there were people waiting for us at the airport. There were 80 kids waiting for us at the airport, crying because they couldn’t believe that we were coming to Argentina. For four guys from Queens, New York, we were like, “this is so surreal.” We get to meet and play with heroes of ours. We got to tour with Slayer. In ’99, we got to meet Joe Strummer from the Clash; we played a festival with his band the Mescaleros. As we walked off stage, he said to us “you guys are brilliant,” and that was just a shock.

Are there any moments on the opposite end of the spectrum that come to mind?

Oh, there are many. It’s hard to pin them down because I’ve tried to shut them out. There were many times on tour where we ended up in some club where they really didn’t like this kind of music, and people just stared at us, and it wasn’t very fun. We played at some weird places. It wasn’t a moment that I hated, but it was a weird thing: we played at a place called Dundee, Scotland. This was a number of years ago, and it’s like an industrial steel town, and when we played the whole bar was full. There were like 10 people in front of the stage, and way at the other end of the room, the whole bar was full, and every time we finished a song, the whole bar would turn around and cheer and then go back to drinking. It was just so strange. As far as the horrible stuff, there’s plenty: bad shows, bad business decisions. Hindsight being what it is, you wish that, yeah, maybe we should have started our own label back then and we’d be a lot richer for it. What are you going to do? You can’t live on regret.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the punk scene over your career?

It’s more business oriented. I think it’s a good thing that they know the business to defend themselves, but then some of them make it a priority of knowing the business so they think that this punk and hardcore thing is like a stepping stone, and next year we’re going to be like Guns ‘n’ Roses, or next year we’re going to be like whoever. That kind of irks me.

How did you guys end up teaming up with the Dropkick Murphys for your upcoming tour?

We knew Al [Barr, vocals] from his other band, the Bruisers, from decades ago. Him and [bassist] Ken [Casey] like to see us play. That’s what I really respect about the Dropkicks no matter how successful they get—you can even say they’ve carved their own niche in the music industry—they want to expose all these people to all the elements that made the Dropkick Murphys what they are today. To take a band like us out—we’re a very aggressive hard rock band—I think is amazing.

After 20 years, is there an end in sight for Sick of it All?

Not yet. We joke around all the time. We would joke around and say when we hit 20, that’ll be retirement. When we got here, we didn’t want to retire, so we were like, let’s push it back to maybe 25. We’ll see what happens.

 

 


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