Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. from Bad Brains

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How low can a punk get? It obviously depends of course on state of mind, drug use, religious beliefs and fame and fortune to start with, but let’s digress for a second and introduce H.R to those who may not know him. Paul “H.R.” Hudson, aka Joseph I, is the unique frontman of the legendary and explosive hardcore band, Bad Brains, whose rise to fame in the 1980s saw them travel the world to perform their bone crunching music to thousands. H.R’s presence on stage is unforgettable. Whether he is screaming from the bottom of his soul to thrashing 200mph riffs or singing sweet dulcet Rastafarian tones over dope basslines, this enigma was born to emit electrifying energy to others that can be deeply infectious. Only a chosen few can say that they fronted arguably, the best live punk rock band of all time.

I’m slightly biased here, as my 16 year old self decided to travel to the Marquee Club on Tottenham Court Rd in London back in 1989 to see them play on the ‘Quickness’ Tour. Bad Brains were the first legit hardcore band I had ever witnessed play live and their sheer sonic force and insane energy just ripped the place apart. Bodies flew off the stage all night long, beer was thrown everywhere, H.R was backflipping – someone even dived off the balcony. I had discovered hardcore from the kings of the scene, directly from the inner sanctum, instantly inspiring me to form my own band. They were that influential.

As Bad Brains grew in popularity, H.R’s erratic behaviour rose with it causing chaos within the band’s touring and recording schedule but his character was so compelling that his actions were not seen to be anything other than avant-garde to some. It took a while for those close to him to realise that maybe his abnormal social behaviour was actually out of his control and caused by a legitimate illness such as schizophrenia. This is the subject that forms the basis of this amazing documentary made by director James Lathos. As a lifelong Bad Brains fan, Lathos spent a lot of time with H.R in the US and Jamaica over the space of 10 years and decided to piece together this documentary without any prior experience of film making. A task that on reflection is an accolade in itself as his work sucks you in and turns you upside down revealing a detailed and personal inside view of the band’s struggle to keep their frontman focused throughout serious illness.

The film takes you through the early years of the Hudson family and their movements around the world from birth in Liverpool, England to Kingston, Jamaica, leading to various locations across America to their home in Washington DC, where the two Hudson brothers, Earl and Paul would meet guitarist Gary Miller (aka Dr Know) and bassist Darryl Jennifer. Strangely, both band members decided not to contribute to the documentary at all, leaving the sound bites to Earl Hudson, Bad Brains’ manager Anthony Countey, Positive Force founder Mark Andersen, Dischord’s Ian MacKaye, various members of Sublime, 311, Living Colour, Fishbone and many others, but for once, no Henry Rollins or Dave Grohl! In fact many key hardcore luminaries who we thought would be present in this flick discussing the good old days were not present.

In reflection though, Lathos’ followed H.R’s journey as a solo singer in the many collaborations and reggae projects that he formed around the US that toured Europe during the late 1980s and 90s. A mission that wasn’t all about survival, but a quest to find inner peace and happiness through leaving behind the somewhat negative, in-your-face force that punk rock is famed for. H.R struggled with this aggression and much preferred the more heartfelt, soulful Rasta vibes of reggae and dub leading him on various paths to write music with many other musicians within the genre.

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The director depicts H.R as a Shaman who drifted in search of new musical directions without managing to pay a single electric bill in his life. A deeply religious man who only needed a bed and bible but whose illness eventually lead him to homelessness. Sadly, his schizophrenia became so unbearable that one questioned whether he knew if he was actually on stage performing or not. Lathos’ goes deep into the dark side of the singer’s mental instability in true documentary form making uncomfortable viewing with H.Rs personal archive of self filmed footage confirming that he was stuck in his own hallucinogenic world. But from the depths of despair there is always light and the scene that explains the purchase of a white limousine, his wonderfully bizarre outfits and that unforgettable grin are quick to soften the blow!

From the incredible unseen live footage to learning how H.R invented the word ‘mosh’ from his Jamaican patois chants, ‘Finding Joseph I’ takes you on an inside journey through the success and turmoil of H.R and Bad Brains confirming why they’re included for induction into the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For a debut production in the world of music documentaries, Lathos’ film will go down as one of the best you will see within the hardcore scene. I literally cannot believe we managed to see the very first screening that H.R himself has not even seen yet, so thank you Doc’n Roll Film Festival for the opportunity. Apparently there was so much archive interview footage that a book will also be published next January, but as the director mentioned on the night at the Q&A, it’s too early to tell what Small Axe Films will be doing in terms of releasing it online or on DVD yet but it will happen. For now, watch the trailer and get yourself some PMA.

Words: Zac
Photo: Zac (Unseen photo of HR backstage at the Astoria, London 2007)

Ian Mackaye and Steve Albini head to head interview

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It’s not often you will hear Ian Mackaye (Fugazi/Dischord/The Evens) in conversation head to head with Steve Albini (Big Black/Shellac) but it’s happened on Kreative Kontrol.

In part 1, listen to Albini slag off Rites of Spring, and the influence of Minor Threat on hardcore, punk violence, the Butthole Surfers, one-upmanship, record distribution, explaining Pailhead and how Ian came to work with Al Jourgensen from Ministry (softy dance stuff, ha!) and most importantly, they discuss in detail that ‘In On The Kill Taker’ recording session that never worked for Fugazi that Albini engineered.

In part 2, the pair discuss politics, Sylvester Stallone, the Urban Outfitters/Minor Threat thing, Henry Rollins, communication, anonymity and much, much more.

This is a great chat if you are obsessed by hardcore, make sure you find time to sit down and listen to it properly.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC

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We’ve waited a long time for this one. Crowd-funding for the making of ‘Salad Days’, a look at the incredibly fertile hardcore punk movement that exploded out of Washington DC in the early 80s, first started over four years ago when brief snippets and enticing trailers started to work their way across the internets. And now it’s finally here…

We live in an age now where so many bands, movements and artists are getting to tell their stories in film. Every week there’s a new music documentary to see, a story to tell, but Salad Days is something special. From the very start, the Washington DC punk scene documented itself. More than any other punk scene in the world at that time, the participants took care to photograph, film and record everything that was happening. They knew what they were doing was important and special and wanted it preserved. “I didn’t want to own the scene, I just wanted there to be one,” explains Ian Mackaye, who through his work with Minor Threat, Fugazi, Dischord Records and many more is understandably the lynch pin and constant through the whole movie. So the upshot of this is that there is a wealth of incredible footage in this film. It rushes past, much like the music, in a high-speed, high-energy blur. This is not any easy film to sit still and watch in a cinema, as each band and song crashes by, every moment made me want to leap out of my seat and explode.

Ph: Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat, Wilson Center, DC, 1983 by Jim Saah

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Film maker Scott Crawford has done an incredible job of capturing the spirit and energy of the time. Having been involved in the scene in DC from a very young age (he was just 12 when he started going to gigs and making fanzines), he was trusted to tell the story and help the various participants open up.

Running chronologically from when Bad Brains exploded onto the scene and everything went FAST with bands like SOA, Void. Teen idles, Minor Threat, Untouchables, Youth Bridge, to the mid-80s ‘Revolution Summer’ years with Rites Of Spring, Embrace, Gray Matter, Dave Grohl’s first band Mission Impossible. They then move onto the end of the 80s as the alternative rock explosion beckoned, and Grohl, fresh out of Dischord legends Scream propelled Nirvana into the mainstream, bringing Fugazi attention they never expected, Jawbox a major label deal and the rest is history.

There are so many magical moments in ‘Salad Days’ that it’s difficult to know where to start but here’s a few. The footage of Void is utterly off-the-hook insane and demonic, the bit where MacKaye talks about Straight Edge and how he still gets people, to this day, phoning him at the Dischord office and screaming “hey Ian, I’m drunk, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT!!” before slamming the phone down, the self-belief, politics and conviction that run through every band, the thought that they really believed they were making a difference and could change. Subject to change. The realisation of just how young everyone one was when this started…

“Salad days” is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression to refer to a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion that one associates with a young person.”

That says it all.

James Sherry

You can pre-order the film on Vimeo as it will be Video On Demand from August 4th.

Dave Grohl sent fan mail to Ian Mackaye

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Renowned equally for cataloguing and preserving every single piece of memorabilia to do with Dischord, as well as his legendary punk rock status, Ian Mackaye has today unearthed a letter he received from a 14 year-old Dave Grohl.

Pictured above, the note sees a young David reaching out to Mackaye on the whim of ‘Good Thrash’ to ask for a couple of phone numbers and a leg up. Dave tweeted it out to his 2m+ followers last night too.

Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye radio show

It’s not often these two friends get to sit in a studio together and nerd out on new tunes, musical history and more, so you should get stuck into the latest Henry Rollins KCRW radio show with guest Ian Mackaye.

It’s two hours long filled with fantastic tunes and of course, great banter from two of the OG 80s hardcore hero’s.

Playlist:

01: Booker T. & The MG’S — “Green Onions” (Stax Revue Live At The 5/4 Ballroom)
02: Vile Cherubs — “Man With A Photograph” (The Man Who Has No Eats No Sweats)
03: Q And Not U — “Kiss Distinctly” (No Kill No Beep Beep)
04: Lungfish — “Wailing Like Dragons” (Feral Hymns)
05: Radio Birdman — “New Race” (Radios Appear)
06: Black Eyes – “Drums” (Cough)
07: Follow Fashion Monkeys – “Managerie” (Unreleased Session)
08: Slant 6 — “Double Edged Knife” (Soda Pop*Rip Off)
09: Stooges Brass Band — “Where You From” (It’s About Time)
10: Eddy Current Suppression Ring — “She’s Dancing Away” (So Many Things)
11: The Ramsey Lewis Trio — “Hang On Sloopy” (Hang On Ramsey!)
12: Led Zeppelin — “The Song Remains The Same”
13: Happy Go Licky – “Twist And Shout” (Happy Go Licky Will Play)
14: Medications — “The Perfect Target” (5 Songs)
15: SPRCSS — “Ours Is Expanding Light” (Unreleased)
16: Funkadelic — “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow”
17: The Nurses — “D.Y.F.” (Single)
18: Nation Of Ulyses — “SS Exploder” (Plays Pretty For Baby)
19: Red C — “Pressure’s On” (Unreleased demo)
20: Rocket From The Crypt — “Pressure’s On” (All Systems Go)

Bad Brains documentary to debut at SXSW

A documentary on seminal hardcore band Bad Brains will debut at the SXSW festival in Austin this year.

The film features the likes of Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, Adam Yauch and Don Letts and has the following synopsis:

“Bad Brains are one of the most important and influential American bands still working today. They melded punk and reggae into an innovative style that has yet to be copied. Their impact and influence can be heard in groups like Beastie Boys, No Doubt, Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction and countless more.

Despite the troubles of an eccentric front man they have stayed together for 30 years without ever reaching the level of success so many think they deserve. Using rare archival footage and original comic illustrations the film re-constructs Bad Brains’ rich and complicated history.”

Check out the trailer below and get hyped.

Ian Mackaye from Fugazi Kicks Out Against The Pricks

Ian Mackaye has ben very active of late with Fugazi. No gigs have been announced though, or even talk of a brand new record, but we hear on the vine of grapes that a Mojo journalist has visited Dischord House in the last 5 weeks for a future feature in the mag, a new book on hardcore is in the works from the same journo and today, music website Kicking Against The Pricks have unleashed a small interview feature with recent words from the Minor Threat singer.

In Sean Caldwell’s own words: “Our discussion centered on independent music and its progress as the scene, technology and means with which information can be distributed have changed.” Click here to read the feature.

Ph: Pat Grahm

WUGAZI the interview

Fugazi and the Wu Tang Clan are two iconic groups, both defining the sound of a scene and making everyone sit up and take notice of their music and their message. So what happens when you mix the two together? Well, thanks to Doomtree‘s Cecil Otter and fellow Minneapolis musician Swiss Andy, of The Swiss Army and The Millionth Word fame, we now know.

Sleep Rules Everything Around Me mysteriously appeared on Soundcloud and within half a day, the track had garnered 20,000 listens, with over 100,000 in a week. It has been one of the most talked about topics in music of late and we caught up with the two brainchildren behind the project to discuss the process of making the music, how long it took and even preferred fighting styles.

Ladies and Gentlemen, enter the Chamber of the Wugazi!

Words: Abjekt
Photo: Ben LaFond

Straight out the slums of… Minneapolis?

Cecil: Yes Sir, the centre of the Universe!

The big question first – how did you come up with the idea of putting Fugazi and Wu Tang together? Are you both big fans of both acts so know their catalogue extensively?

Cecil: Andy had been kicking around the idea for a few years before he brought it up to me. We had both been huge fans of each group since we were young, so it was easy to fall in love with the idea of WUGAZI.

Andy: Yeah, that is pretty much all that was in my headphones during the 90s.

Cecil: A one point in his life, Andy sold his guitar amp just so he could go see a Fugazi show. I sold my tickets to that same Fugazi show and bought an ice cream cone and shared it with my friend. I later broke into that show, caused a scene and got screamed at by Guy from Fugazi. He kept telling everyone that he saw me eating ice cream outside with my friend…over and over…I didn’t enjoy that at all, but the ice cream was good.

Andy: Asshole.

Did you decide on the tracks you wanted to use first or did you just play it by ear and see which Wu track fit with which Fugazi?

Cecil: We would listen through every Fugazi album and take notes on where the drum breaks, bass loops and guitar loops were. After that I would put them into Protools accordingly, find a close enough tempo to fallow the song, chop everything onto a grid and start cranking away at a song structure.”

Andy: I had a few Fugazi tracks I really wanted to use, but they were just too fast or slow for us to fit under an acapella.

Cecil: We let the samples loop in the background and begin to play Wu Tang acapellas over the song until we found the perfect match. When we found that, we would place it in the session and begin to cut, paste and stretch each verse to fit the track…then we get detailed.

Andy: We would try to use more than one song in each track. Using them more as samples for producing, than just putting one thing on top of the other.

Were there any tracks that you tried to mash together that just sounded horrible?

Cecil: Oh yeah, that’s why we put a full year into this. We have a handful of half done songs that just wouldn’t marry each other or we didn’t have a clean enough acapella to work with. The hardest thing about making the album (well, one of them) was the limited Wu Tang acapellas that we had access to. There are so many Wu Tang songs that we would have loved to do, we probably would have been able to call it Wugazi: 36 Songs if we had all the acapellas!

You’ve got 13 Chambers dropping in July, is there anything you can tell us about it other than it houses the track Sleep Rules Everything Around Me?

Cecil: Well, it will have 12 more songs and they will all be different and they will all have drums and bass and guitar and vocals, never forget the vocals!

Also, Sleep… hit 20,000 plays in 12 hours, did you think it was going to be as huge as that in such a short space of time?

Cecil: Not at all. We we’re very excited about the tracks because our friends loved them so much. We had no idea that the two groups would work together so well. We made S.R.E.A.M. the first night into the project. We lost our shit when we stretched the vocals in and took the first listen. After that night,  Wugazi was pretty much a reason to get together with a friend and lose ourselves in the moment. I don’t think either of us had any idea that so many others would like it as much as we do, but then again…it’s Wu Tang and Fugazi, who doesn’t like them?!

Andy: When Paddy Costello almost started crying, I knew we were doing something right. But never thought this would spread like it has.

Would you like to see the two bands work together, maybe do a one-off live show where Ian MacKaye battles Ghostface? Or have Guy Picciotto go hard against Method Man?

Andy: All those guys are such great musicians. Even after Fugazi, Guy produced that amazing Blonde Redhead record and Joe put out that album with John Frusciante. Putting Ian in a room with RZA, I wouldn’t even know where to start…

Cecil: Without a doubt. That would be one of the happiest days of my life.

If you had a sword style, which you would have to train in the mountains of Tibet to perfect, what would it be called?

Andy: Drunken Monkey

Cecil: Drunker Monkey

Fugazi to unleash online archive of live shows

Fugazi fans will be stoked to learn that the band are currently trawling thorugh archived live recordings from shows all over the world whilst they were still an active touring band for release online. The band have recently agreed a deal with Spotify to finally stream the Dischord catalogue and Ian Mackaye was quoted a zine called Frontman Ian Mackaye told blog Approaching Oblivion:

I wanted it to be up last fall … We had to digitise every show, they are on cassette and DAT for the most part. So we got that stuff done. Now we’re in the process of mastering all the shows so they play at the same volume. That stage is not too hard, it’s pretty mechanical, there’s a mastering program that does most of the work. Then we have to edit the shows which means we have to put in index points in between every song so they are not these two hour long files. It’s a fuck of a lot of work. We’re hoping it will be up in the near future. The idea at the moment is to start it with 100 shows. Then put 20 more on every month or something. We’re still building the site, it’s an interesting and complicated process“.

He also replied to the question we all want to know about if Fugazi will get back for another album in the future or more shows. He said:

The four of us love each other dearly. We didn’t break up, I coined the indefinite hiatus term specifically because I thought it was absurd to break up. It is entirely possible that we will play again and it’s also possible that we won’t. We’ve been offered an insane amount of money to play reunions, but it’s not going to be money that brings us back together, we would only play music together if we wanted to play music together and the time allowed it“.

Fingers crossed they come back as they in our eyes one of the all time greats.