14th December 2006
All B&W photo’s courtesy of Gail Butensky.
As front-man of Chicago’s Articles of Faith, Vic Bondi was at the spearhead of the early-Eighties North American Hardcore Punk Revolution.
AOF’s tenure was a relatively short lived affair, but their impact was seismic.
Post-AOF Vic kept busy with a number of musical ventures in the late-Eighties and Nineties, notably Jones Very and Alloy, as-well as reuniting with former AOF band-mates on a one-time only tour of Mainland Europe.
A couple of years back Vic marked his return to the fray with an EP on Alternative Tentacles, and then most recently he joined forces with J. Robbins under the nom de guerre Report Suspicious Activity. Their debut self-titled album (also on AT) is a thoughtful and powerfully pissed political collection of songs, that rallies against the state of 21st Century America. Brighton hardcore fiend Pete Craven was commissioned by Crossfire to run this world exclusive with Vic – this is what went down….
Hey Vic… can we turn back the clock to year zero and you tell us a bit about when and where you were born and raised…
Honolulu. Hawaii – Nine presidents back. Raised in a military family. Spent my teenage years in Pensacola, Florida.
What’s your earliest memory of music getting in to your system, and how did that develop?
Because we were stationed in Puerto Rico and my parents were squares, I missed all the great music of the 1960s. In the 1970s I got a “C” in an English class and my dad banned me from TV until the grades came up. So I started listening to a little transistor radio while I studied. I listened to WBAI in Baltimore, Maryland, and they played a lot of the great soul classics: Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, O’Jays, Four Tops. This was the moment in black music history before disco when it was militant and magnificent. I still love those songs: “What’s Going On“, “Masterpiece“, “You Haven’t Done Nothing” (I should cover that one), “Backstabbers“. It was the first music that turned me on. Couldn’t begin to play or sing like that, though.
Later, in the mid-Seventies, I discovered all the ’60s rock I had missed: Beatles, Stones, Who, Byrds, Neil Young. I was a huge Beatles fan – the first song I ever learned to play on guitar was “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” One chord – Em.
What was strange about my musical development was because I was rediscovering the music of the ’60s in the 1970s, I was never influenced by early 70s bands like Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or Kiss. I never really listened to that music until I was on tour with AoF and we’d play it in the van…
And then along came Punk Rock… were there some deciding factors that drew you in?
In 1977 or 1978, I was listening to a lot of the Stones. I had a part-time job at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the guy I worked with had heard about the Sex Pistols, the Clash and Elvis Costello. But it was almost impossible to find those records in Pensacola. I finally found a copy of Give ‘Em Enough Rope. From the moment I heard that first snare shot on “Safe European Home” I was hooked. I put away the Stones records. Punk was it for me.
… it’s dusting back through time, but can you recollect some of the earliest Punk records you brought, and gigs attended?
The first records were easy, because I learned how to play guitar listening to them: Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope; Ramones, Road to Ruin; The Jam, This is the Modern World; Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bullocks. I still can play almost every riff on those records.
The first (quasi) punk gig I attended was an Elvis Costello concert, on the “Armed Forces” tour, around 1978. The first real punk gig I attended was the Clash at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago in 1979. They thundered onstage with “I’m So Bored with the USA.” I had just moved up to Illinois from Florida, and still had my surfer hair down to my ass. I shaved my head the next day.
Was there a pivotal moment that made you think ‘yes, I wanna be involved’ and put you on your own musical discourse (if you will!)?
That Clash concert was everything I had hoped punk would be. I got into a band after that, the precursor to AoF, called Direct Drive. I also had an epiphany at a Bad Brains show at the 9:30 club in the fall of 1981. AoF had just formed up in Chicago, and we were pretty derivative – still too influenced by The Clash. The Bad Brains floored me. I had never seen such an awesome band. I went back to Chicago and told the guys we had to play fast. And that was how the AoF sound was born.
AOF’s first two seven inches were released on your own label Wasteland (or in the case of the debut EP ‘What We Want Is Free‘ re-released) It must have been quite an endeavour to record, release and then distribute/sell these records – a real labor of love… what do you make of the modern day processes by which bands can make their music known to the general public?
The hard part about putting out our own records was finding the money to do it. Studio space cost maybe $500-600/day, and manufacturing a record was over $1000—and I was working at a sandwich shop for about $ 4.50/hour. We were so broke. It was very hard to get the money together to finance that stuff. I know Paul Mahern helped us out with Wait, and Bob loaned us the money for both the LPs. I’m pretty sure Mike Sukow helped finance What We Want Is Free. Mike was kind of AoF’s banker. He was an ex-Marine who drove a beer truck for a living. He put up the money for all the Central American Social Club shows, and helped us when he could. A pretty great guy.
I love how the Web has changed all this. You don’t need record companies, distributors, stores, marketers or publicists. Absolutely great. Hopefully it will destroy the record industry. It deserves to die.
Both your albums were produced by Bob Mould, the first ‘Give Thanks’coming out on Husker Du’s own label Reflex, and some of your earliest recordings were on the seminal ‘Master Tape’ compilation, compiled by Paul Mahern of the Zero Boys. It seems like the scene in the Mid-West was quite tight back then…
It had to be. There weren’t two dozen bands in twelve states playing this type of music (although, in those days, the styles were wide open). A lot of people in the Midwest were openly hostile to the type of music we played, and to the way we looked. You got in fights with frat boys back then, and cops raided shows and parties. So you did get tight with like-minded souls.
Huskers were the great band of the Midwest. They and the Toxic Reasons blazed the trail for everyone—they were the first band to tour nationally and brought attention and professionalism to the scene and the music. There would have been no Midwestern scene without Huskers. They introduced everyone to everyone else. You slept on their floors and they slept on yours. It was a very friendly scene.
But AOF did have a well know ‘spat’ with fellow Chicago band the Effigies… have you ever make your peace with ‘Attorney’ Kezdy??!!!
And from AOF you formed Jones Very, and then Alloy who certainly made a name for themselves in mainland Europe in the early Nineties. What memories do you hang on to of your trips to Europe in those heady days, including the ’91 AOF tour?
Great memories. I think the first Alloy tour, with Colin (Sears – Dag Nasty), was the best. We started the trip completely unknown, playing small shows. The end of the tour was sold out for two weeks. It was amazing. The last show on that tour, in Cologne, was one of the best I’ve ever played. We also once flew over to Amsterdam for a New Year’s Eve show at the Paradiso. It was Pete’s first show with the band in Europe, and we were completely jet-lagged. We were sleeping backstage right up until we went on, but then we destroyed the place. During the encore, Pete (Hines – ex Cro-Mags) kicked over and demolished his drums, not such a good thing, since he had borrowed them from Bill Stevenson.
What made Pete Hines ‘the most difficult personality you’ve ever worked with’?
Pete was a violent alcoholic. On the second Alloy tour of Europe, we forbade him from drinking, but in truth, he was almost as bad sober as drunk. He had a lot of serious personal issues. A great drummer, but impossible to get along with, and wrong, in the end, for the band. Colin was the definitive drummer for Alloy.
About six years after Alloy broke up, I ran into Pete in Seattle. He had moved there and was working as a chef in a restaurant. He seemed to be doing a lot better, sober, and with his demons behind him. I haven’t heard from him since, but I think he is playing drums with Cub Country, an indie-country group.
Going through the discography on your website it looks like you’ve had your fair share of bad-business deals with record labels, including Roadrunner (that didn’t surprise me too much) but also Jade Tree (which did)… What have you learnt from these experiences?
That independent labels can be as rapacious and greedy as major labels. Jade Tree never did right by me. I understand they are better now, but when Jones Very was on the label they had very few bands and very little money. So they took mine. They’ve never made it up to me. When they put out The First Five Years, they charged Jones Very with the entire cost of production, and then took our royalties to pay for it—even though we were one of many bands on the record (for which they never asked my permission).
It was interesting to read that back in the mid-Nineties you had a musical ‘project’ under the name Weatherman – a collaboration with (then) Rage Against the Machine man Tom Morello.
It was a complete blast. Tom was an AoF and Alloy fan—he had come down to some of the Alloy shows on the west coast. I ran into him at a Lollapalooza show, and he told me he was doing a side project. He sent me the tapes of the roughs, I wrote some lyrics, and before I knew it I was flying down to LA to record. We did about 35-40 songs initially, pared it down to about 25 for an LP, and a year later did a 4-song EP. We called it Weatherman, after the ’60s radicals. Sony didn’t like the songs—they sounded a lot like Rage with a different singer. In truth, they weren’t that good, but the ones on the website are some of the ones that were pretty great. Part of the problem was the drummer on the project, but the biggest problem is that Tom hated working with Zack, and was looking for some way to evolve out of Rage.
Some of Audioslave’s first record used the exact same Weatherman music—the song “Cochise” was originally a better track called “Enola Gay“. Had Tom the clarity he had several years later the project might have gone further. But it was great working with him; he’s seriously gifted and has great politics. We had a lot of fun.
The next time I pick you up on the radar is 2003, with the ‘Fortunate Son’ CDEP on Alternative Tentacles… firstly how did you end up on AT, and secondly – what was the inspiration behind recording the classic John Fogerty penned ragged anthem?
I’ve always loved that song and most of what CCR recorded. But that song in particular always struck me as one of the most pissed off and spot on records ever made. I hate that it is always poor guys fighting wars for rich men—same now as then. I had been to a bunch of peace rallies in Seattle, almost all of them were filled with middle class families—we took our two-year-old daughter to them. I thought the song might work as an intergenerational call to arms. Not surprisingly, I don’t think too many folks from the ’60s ever heard the cover, and a lot of the punks that did hated it. It got poor reviews—most punk types didn’t get it at all. I was listening to a lot of old Iggy at the time—I wanted to throw that into it. Biafra liked it—I think he got the reference—and thought it would be good to put out on AT. I’ve known him for over 20 years. I asked and he said yes.
And then last year came the Report Suspicious Activity album, with you and J Robbins (Government Issue, Jawbox, Burning Airlines) teaming up… how did you this relationship come about?
Alloy and Jawbox used to play a lot of shows together. I had liked Burning Airlines and gone down to see them in Seattle. J and I kept in touch casually. When I started writing music again, I recorded everything on a digital studio in my basement, programming the drums on a drum machine. I sent them to J, thinking he might produce them for me. He liked them so much he asked if he could play bass, and shared his drummer, Darren Zentek, from his new band, Channels, with me. The stuff just clicked. We recorded it with virtually no rehearsals—most takes are first takes. You can hear it on “Patriot Act” at the end when I scream for them to keep the tape rolling. We cut “Subtle” immediately after that, with the blood pumping.
The album is a heavy and pissed collection of songs that rips in to Modern Day USA, with it’s war driven obsessions, flag waving patriotism… in the name of ‘liberty and freedom’… I think it’s fair to say you have still had enough of American Dreams?
Yeah, well, I think the problems today are the reason I got back into music. I really didn’t do much at the end of the 90s—just the Morello project. For about five years I didn’t even pick up the guitar. But after Bush was appointed president, something clicked in me.
My wife and I were mildly active in politics—we had actively campaigned in a few local Seattle elections. But “normal” politics weren’t working. We marched in the Anti-Iraq rallies from the very first. They made no difference. Out of frustration I think I turned back to music. The songs started pouring out just around the time the US invaded Iraq.
One thing to bear in mind about the situation today is that Bush is the symptom, and not the cause. There is a small minority of the America public that are genuine sociopaths. For these guys (they are mostly men), fighting in Iraq is great—they are nihilists and find the only meaning for their lives in war. They’ve always been in America. The dark underside of American history is that millions of idealists came to North America, had their dreams shattered (because they were unrealistic) and became raving nihilists. They’ve created a culture of hidden nihilism, and need enemies to give them meaning. They slaughtered the Indians and the Filipinos and the Vietnamese and are having a fine time in Iraq. They’d love to extend it out to Iran or Syria, North Korea or China. They live to kill because they have nothing to live for. They are probably less than 3% of the American population, and their ranks are filled with serial killers and klansmen.
But a very small number rise to prominence. Cheney is certainly a nihilist, as is Rumsfeld. Around this small core there is a constellation of apologists, careerists, unprincipled opportunists and greedheads. They form the center of the Republican party. They are not explicit nihilists, but have a remarkable capacity to rationalize their own self-interest. They are more common in America, a land of hustlers and con-men. Maybe 30% of the population is like this, and they are in both political parties—most politicians of any caliber are part of this group. Bush is like this, as is Condi Rice. Then there are relatively well-meaning people who get caught up in the propaganda the first two groups spit out—probably 50-60% of Americans are like this, people like former Treasury Secretary John Snow, maybe even Colin Powell.
Many supported Bush in the past, but don’t now. The most frustrating people in this group are people like my father-in-law or uncle—good people who know in their hearts that Bush is a disaster for the world, but out of pride and an unwillingness to admit they are wrong, refuse to drop their support for him. This is why a man so obviously incapable of ruling responsibly or competently continues to get almost 40% support from the polls. Everything I am doing artistically is directed towards this group. They need to be shamed. And maybe then we can move on.
And of course Bush’s War on Terror© was embraced whole heartedly by Britain’s Tony Blair… what’s your thoughts on our own glorious leader?
I was in London at the end of August. I hadn’t been there in 9 years. It’s changed a lot: much less provincial, much more cosmopolitan. It’s like a lot of the international cities I do business in—it’s become a playground for rich people. The London Eye makes the connection so clear: if the model for the city in the 19th century was the factory, the model for the city in the 21st is the amusement park. But the only people that get to really enjoy the park/city are the rich.
I guess much of this is owing to Blair and his “new Britannia” policy. But whatever positive efforts he made coming into office have been eclipsed by his becoming Bush’s poodle. I don’t understand why he did it. I’m waiting for the definitive explanation as to why such an ostensibly smart man would associate himself with such an idiot.
To me the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is futile, ill thought out, and will ultimately fail because the supposed brains behind the invasions of these countries had no long term goals, and – more importantly – seemingly no idea of the politics and history of the peoples in these countries. Do you see any hope?
Not really. The best we can hope for now is to withdraw and hope the bloodbath is not too great. But we should definitely get out (we should have never gone in).
On the home front – I’m typing this interview up on the week that a gunman shot dead six little girls in a school at an Amish community in Pennsylvania… a tragic incident. Will your gun laws ever change?
Probably not. That sociopath community in America considers gun laws on par with castration. Can’t say I blame them too much, given that they need something to define their manhood…
Okay, on a lighter note – I saw the film ‘American Hardcore‘ recently, very good it was too… some fantastic footage I’d never seen before (the Bad Brains material was ace!) and plenty of neat insights from folks from the olden days (!!!) including your good self… had you read Steven Blush’s book before taking part? For my part, I couldn’t help note that there was virtually no mention at all of The Dead Kennedy’s in the film, who are surely one of the most important Punk bands ever… do you know what the deal was there?
Yeah, I do. Biafra refused to work with Blush. He hates him. When I saw the private screening of the film, I told Steve and Paul that I thought the film suffered for not having the DKs and the Huskers in it—I thought they were central to the movement, and a core part of the DIY ethic. But Biafra refused their interview requests, and I don’t know why they didn’t get Bob. I tried to talk to Biafra about it, because I thought the film, with all it flaws, would become one of the central documents in the history of hardcore. But Biafra refused to discuss it. You’ll have to ask him more about it to get details.
Blush asked me to do the film. He never contacted me about his book, and I don’t own a copy and have never read it. But it was pretty clear the book did a disservice to AoF. I think he asked me to be in the movie to make up for it, but you’ll have to ask him.
What about your own future Vic… what does it hold, both personally and on a musical front?
I’d like to tell you that RSA will be doing more and more interesting stuff. We get along great and have finished a great new EP with lots of collaboration between me and J. But I’m not sure that will happen: J has some very serious and very private problems in his life, and it’s very likely that my work will force me and my family to move back to Seattle. So I’m not sure how many more live shows, or records from RSA there will be. That said, I am still writing music, so you can be sure more records will come from me.
And before we close this down… please list us 5 essential albums that you think every record collection should include…
1. Elvis Presley, The Sun Sessions. This is the sound of Rock n Roll at birth. Nothing else is like it. And Elvis is still cool.
2. The Beatles, Revolver. This is the template for almost all of the sonic experiments of the 1960s. I could have put the Stones Let It Bleed, Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues or Who’s Next on here, but this is the best of the 1960s.
3. Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On. This is probably the only concept record (with maybe the exception of Zen Arcade) I can stand. It ushered in all the great soul experiments of the 1970s, and is one of the most idealistic and transcendent records ever made. Second place goes to Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On.
4. The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope. I know the critics like The Clash or London Calling better, but this is the record in which I discovered punk, and to me, it’s the best they made. The Clash has great songs, but without Topper Headon on drums, it doesn’t kick you in the face the way “Safe European Home,” or “Tommy Gun,” does. Never Mind the Bullocks is a great punk record, but the Pistols were a one idea band and a dead end. The Clash were complex, and showed you the way out. Second place goes to the Bad Brains ROIR tape.
5. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. I hated jazz back in the hardcore days, but in my late 20s I finally got the vibe. Miles, Armstrong, Colman, Coltrane—great stuff. Jones Very was influenced by Coltrane. I used to practice leads listening to his solos. But the biggest single reason this is on my list is because, if you put this record on, you will get laid. Every time. What could be more rock than that?
Many thanks for your time Vic!
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Go to www.myspace.com/reportsuspiciousactivity for Vic’s newest project, www.vicbondi.com for the full discography, music and more and also www.aofcomplete.com for all Articles of Faith related malarkey.