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Thursday, June 10, 2010

PETE ZELEWSKI OF NA AND THE ALLIED SITS DOWN FOR A SERIOUS CHAT...WBSTYN - Give a brief description of how and where you grew up. If you didn’t grow up in the Midwest, where did you grow up and what lead you to this area? Do you think the environment you grew up in was one of the factors that got you interested in Punk?


Pete Z - I grew up in a very middle class suburb of Detroit called Grosse Pointe. Life in Grosse Pointe was probably like a million other soulless suburbs throughout America, which was the perfect breeding ground for me to engross myself in punk rock. I always felt like an outcast in High School and the local community and found that by submerging myself in music, art and writing I could just about survive the normality of the local life. Punk Rock not only gave me an outlet to vent my frustrations (through music, bands and fanzines) but also an identity that was unique to me at the time.

WBSTYN - How did you first become aware of Punk Rock?


PZ - I was into music long before I discovered punk rock mainly due to the influence of my older brother. There was always musicians hanging around my house and it was natural for me to follow in the same direction. Although my brother was more into traditional rock, musically I was always drawn to bands that were less on the mainstream side of things. One summer a cousin came to visit from London and for the first time I was exposed to all sorts of bands that were happening in the UK punk scene at the time (The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Clash, The Ruts etc.). Although I used to read about punk in magazines like Creem, for one reason or another I never took them seriously. Out of curiosity I bought the Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ and from the moment the needle hit the turntable I was hooked. It was the calling I had been waiting for and from that point on there was no turning back. Within a week I cut and dyed my hair, ripped up my leather jacket, learned a few guitar chords and formed my first punk band called The Sleeves.


WBSTYN - What were some of the first Punk records you got? What are some of your favorites out of the lot that inspired you to start bands, etc. What records prior to being aware of Punk do you think factored into you getting interested in Punk?


PZ - The most liberating thing for me about Punk Rock was that anyone could do it (and anyone was welcome). One of the most influential albums for me before hardcore was ‘Rocket To Russia’ by the Ramones. As a struggling guitarist I managed to learn the entire album in a weekend while my older brother and his friends painfully spent weeks learning chord progressions to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Since I had no set agenda musically I was very open-minded and would buy anything that looked interesting (The Jam, Eater, Sham 69, The Clash, The Buzzcocks etc.). What I loved most about punk rock at the time was that visually the records were often as exciting as the music on offer. I was very into art at school and found the imagery used in record sleeve design very stimulating. This inspired me not only musically but also the fanzine graphics and gig poster design I later was heavily involved in.


WBSTYN - Describe what the Midwest music scene was like at the time before you guys started playing out. Name specific bands and clubs and what kind of ‘scene’ went on there and how you felt about it. What were the bands (prior to the HC explosion) in your area that you thought were doing something viable and inspired you to start playing music.


PZ - Before the hardcore scene evolved there really was no scene to speak of in Detroit. Because of licensing laws (I was 16 at the time) it was almost impossible to see bands in the few clubs that had punk rock on offer. The punk scene at the time had more of a new wave slant and consisted of a few places like Bookies, Nunzios, The Red Carpet and a few irrelevant others. In the early days, myself and John Brannon (NA singer) would go to check out local Detroit bands like Coldcut, The Mutants, The Sillies who were all ‘supposedly’ punk rock. We found it very disheartening, and if anything, it made us more determined (by their lack of conviction) to start a band that was relevant to kids our age.
Through our never-ending search for good music we luckily befriended a girl called Larissa Stolarchuck who sang in a band called L7. L7 were a huge breath of fresh air for us and the only Detroit band we could take seriously at the time (not hardcore but very uncompromising in their approach). We took every opportunity to see them live and became real fans. Larissa also wrote a fanzine called ‘Anonymous’ which certainly inspired my fanzine writing later on. Larissa was a very interesting person and highly knowledgeable musically and responsible for introducing John and I to the Necros.


WBSTYN - How did you find out about the west coast Punk stuff? Slash? Flipside? Where did you find those magazines in the Midwest? Did you do a lot of mail order? What record stores out there stocked this stuff?


PZ - It will come as no surprise that my musical influences in most cases laid on the other side of the Atlantic so at the time I wasn’t aware of Flipside or Slash. I used to travel about 50 miles to Ann Arbor (a small college town in Michigan) to buy the New Musical Express and Sounds just to read about British punk rock. If the NME wasn’t in stock I would pick up anything else that might look interesting and slowly I built up a huge collection of fanzines, which helped to further expand my musical knowledge with what was happening outside of the sterile confines of the Detroit music scene.


WBSTYN - Did you skate? If so, how did you get into that and how did you find out about pro skaters like Alva, Adams, etc? How long were you skating for before you found out about Punk? How do you think skating and the HC scene worked together?


PZ - I always found it odd (and still do) between the connection of skateboarding and punk rock. Before my punk days I was heavily addicted to skateboarding and used to spend months on end at the local skate park. I was really into Tony Alva and all the Dogtown skaters and even got caught by the police one summer for spray painting ‘Dogtown Skates’ on a local shop wall. When I discovered punk rock, skateboarding just seemed so irrelevant and I immediately swapped my board for a guitar. A few years later a friend who was still into skating told me I had to come back to the skate park because all the skate kids had cut their hair and were full into punk rock.Because finding local punks my age was the equivalent of discovering life on Mars I went straight over there in the hope of finding some like minded band mates. I was slightly disappointed with my discovery when I realized that most of the skate kids had very little interest in music (Devo was a favorite amongst them?) and were really just using punk rock as a way to emulate their skate heroes in California.


WBSTYN - How did you get to know Tesco Vee? What was the first time you met him?


PZ - We were introduced to Tesco shortly after we met the Necros. Touch and Go was the Midwest hardcore bible at the time and very well respected in the underground American music scene. Because of this status whenever Tesco wrote about a group it was instant publicity. He conducted the first ever Negative Approach interview (in a toilet) before we even played a gig and our popularity just seemed to grow overnight. If anything he made us feel like a band worth listening too and really gave us the confidence to push on. Tesco was never really a big fan of the Allied, but I always respected him because he gave us a fair hearing and wasn’t so quick to judge us like many others from that scene. He was also highly knowledgeable musically (never limiting himself to just hardcore) and had a huge record collection (the only one to rival Barry Hensslers’), which as a record nut, I was in complete awe of. Through his fanzine Touch and Go we were exposed to all sorts of West Coast and Washington D.C. music that most of us would never have had the chance to read about.


WBSTYN - How did you become aware of the slam dancing/stage diving ritual of Hardcore? Did you read about it? I know this sounds like a totally retarded question, but I’m just sorta curious of how you found out about it.


PZ - The whole slam dancing thing was very a west coast thing and I was completely unaware of it until I first saw Black Flag (with Dez on vocals). The Necros were obviously well into it and the moment Black Flag hit the stage the floor exploded with slam dancers with elbows and fists flying in every direction. It was never really my thing but it certainly helped to make hardcore gigs a real spectacle.


WBSTYN - When and how did you guys get to know the kids in the D.C. scene?


PZ - The Washington D.C. connection happened through Barry, Todd and Corey from the Necros. They were well into the whole D.C. scene long before us and exposed us to all the great music that was coming out of the area. We first met the D.C. kids when Minor Threat played a gig to about 30 kids in a bar in Windsor, Canada called the Coronation Tavern. Seeing Minor Threat live for the first time was an experience I’ll never forget and certainly in my top 10 gigs of all time. At the time John Brannon and I just formed Negative Approach and we quickly realized that if we were going to be taken seriously as a hardcore band in their league we had some serious work to do.


WBSTYN - What do you remember about the band Harold?

PZ - A joke-ish band fronted by a guy called Davo (I think). If my memory serves me correct Harold used various members of Youth patrol as a backing band. Never my sort of thing but always very humorous. Frontman Davo took some great photos from the early Freezer days some of which I used in my fanzine the Real Threat.


WBSTYN - What do you remember about Youth Patrol


PZ - Youth Patrol were one of the earliest hardcore bands along with the Necros and Negative Approach. I have vague memories of myself playing guitar for them in the early days but left after forming Negative Approach. OP and Graham who later joined NA were both members of Youth Patrol. Their singer (Spike) also played bass in the first line-up of the Allied. For one reason or another no one ever took Youth Patrol as serious as they did Negative Approach (they were a few years younger) but they weren’t a bad band considering they were all about 14.


WBSTYN - What about Bored Youth?


PZ - Easily the most underrated band from the Detroit hardcore scene. They weren’t technically a thrash/hardcore band but they had a real style of their own and hugely influenced me when I put the Allied together. Musically their songs were slower than the bands at the time and they definitely had an English influence to their sound mainly due to singer Rob and drummer Fred being huge Eater and Sham 69 fans. Having said that lyrically they were in a league of their own and sang songs, which really hit home about what life was like being a teenage punk in Detroit (check out their song ‘Outcast’). Their singer Rob Michaels was a good friend and a great guy. He sang for the Allied for a short time when Bored Youth broke up but left the band to attend college.

WBSTYN - English Oi! Music played a big part in the early Midwest sceneHow did you become aware of these bands? What was your interpitation of these bands? Did you find the idea of English music to be exotic? How much of the English skinhead ideals come into play into play in the Midwest scene?

PZ - It’s hard to deny the fact that the English Oi bands had a big influence not only on the Allied but also on quite a few of the hardcore bands. I was an avid reader of UK magazines like NME and Sounds so even before my introduction to hardcore I was used to reading about bands like Sham 69, the Cockney Rejects and Blitz. Although the similarities between the Oi bands and the US hardcore bands are few, the common link, which really brought them together, was the whole chanting thing with everybody in the crowd singing along. The Necros used to cover Sham 69’s ‘Rip Off’ and it would always get the whole crowd singing/chanting along which also started having the same effect on their other songs. I never limited myself to just buying music from the US, so although bands like Minor Threat and the Necros were a big influence, I was also checking out all the new Oi bands from the UK. I remember sitting down with John Brannon after hearing the first Blitz single and we were completely blown away by it. We then bought the first Oi album and immediately fell in love with the 4-Skins and even covered ‘Chaos’. Although Negative Approach weren’t an Oi band we were without a doubt heavily influenced by it.



To be honest I think we were all too young and naive to really understand the political agenda of a lot of those English Oi bands. For me it was just great, raw explosive music and although I was aware of some of the extremist views of a lot of the bands (Screwdriver being one) I tried my best to ignore it. Although I considered the Allied a punk band first and foremost we unfortunately started attracting a following that were hugely into the Oi/skinhead thing. In a naive way they took the skinhead thing far too serious and the level of violence at our gigs was really starting to escalate. It made no sense to me how Sham 69 used to sing ‘If the Kids Are United’ and here were a bunch of skinheads beating everyone up around them. I hated all the violence that surrounded the scene and without a doubt it was one of the main thing that made me turn my back on it.




WBSTYN - Tell me how Negative Approach formed

PZ - John Brannon and I lived in Grosse Pointe just streets from each other and went to the same high school. We were both the only punks in Grosse Pointe (and complete outcasts) at the time and struck up a relationship instantly. At the time I was playing bass in my band called the Sleeves and John was in a band called Static. Static were very glam punk in the vein of the New York Dolls and the Stooges and I was doing my best to be Paul Weller with my band the Sleeves. Although musically we’re on opposite sides of the fence it was inevitable that we would end up in a band at some stage just because there was no one else around like us at the time. We started hanging out and going to gigs more frequently and eventually, through meeting the Necros, discovered hardcore.From that initial meeting with the Necros (and seeing Black Flag live) we both knew instantly we wanted to form a hardcore band. John had put a lot of work into Static and was hesitant to leave but listened to my advice and followed me in our first musical venture by forming Negative Approach. We recruited a local skater Rob McCulloch on guitar, who I had met through some skate kids and we brought along an odd Iranian drummer named ‘Zuheir’ to keep the beat. Before we knew it we had a band name, six songs and we started spray painting ‘NA’ all over Detroit!



WBSTYN - What were the first NA shows like? What was the reaction?


PZ - It’s got to be said that John Brannon as a front man was really the star of that scene. He was the sort of guy who was always meant to be on stage and came alive because of it. In our early bands (Static and the Sleeves) we probably never played to more than 20 people but as soon as NA was formed we instantly started attracting a huge die-hard following. John thrived on this and all the crowd participation/chanting and really transformed himself into an amazing front man. The early gigs were explosive and with each one we played there would be another 30 or so kids in tow with NA stencilled on their shirt or jacket. We never expected to be in the same league as the Necros or Minor Threat but the support we were getting was very strong and so instant we literally moved into the hardcore premiership overnight. What started out as a cool name written on a wall was now a band that was turning into a real force in the Midwest hardcore scene.


WBSTYN - How long were you in NA?


PZ - Probably about a year. John and I were still great friends but musically we were really drifting. Although I loved the impact we were having in the scene I was concerned there was no room to develop musically. I was getting really bored with the 30-second songs and full on thrash approach. At the same time I started getting into the Effiges from Chicago and Iron Cross from Washington D.C. who seemed more in tune with where I was coming from musically. Since the scene was really now starting to take off I also felt it was a great time to produce my first fanzine (Real Threat). Although I always loved playing music my first love was art/photography/journalism and I just saw this as a great chance to get my fanzine started (something I had always wanted to do). It felt like a good time as any to leave the band and I called it a day. John was disappointed but cool about it and immediately they had more like-minded band members in the shape of the OP and Graham from Youth Patrol. Although I was proud of forming NA and steering John in the right direction the new band members really turned them into what people know them for today.




WBSTYN - When did you decide to form The Allied? What was the reason behind it?



PZ - I felt very stifled by the music I was playing in Negative Approach (hence my departure) and after I got my fanzine (the Real Threat) going I felt the urge to start playing music again. Although the music scene in the Midwest was traditionally very diverse, the new bands starting up seemed to lack any really originality and this inspired me to form a band that didn’t follow the hardcore/thrash rule book. Influenced by bands like Iron Cross in Washington and The Effigies in Chicago I had a clear idea what I wanted to do with the Allied and enlisted Doug Bashaw on vocals who also shared my views. I loved the energy of hardcore but I wanted to slow the pace down and in a way offer an alternative to what my peers were doing. Although we had a healthy following I was always surprised by the negative reaction to the band just because we were trying something different.



WBSTYN - The Allied seemed a bit more into Brit punk than the other Midwest bands. I mean, NA covered Oi! bands and stuff, but you guys seem to have this legend around you that you were more Brit influenced than the others. Was this a conscious decision?



PZ - You can’t ignore your influences, and for better or worse, my musical influences were always rooted deep in British music. From the Stones and the Beatles, to the Clash and the Jam to my current favourite bands like the Arctic Monkeys and the Kaiser Chiefs my musical tastes have always predominantly resided in the UK. Naturally when I put NA and the Allied together my musical influences came across in our sound. Having said that it was never a conscious effort to sound British, and lyrically we sang about the same issues most teenage punks sang about and not about being on the dole and drinking in pubs (we were all straight edge anyway).
It always amazed me how the British influenced tag went against us. We were constantly being accused of not supporting local bands, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was precisely because of local bands like the Necros that I had the confidence to put a band together that reflected my true musical tastes.



WBSTYN - What were some of the most memorable NA and Allied shows?



PZ - For me it had to be the Freezer Theatre gigs. I spent years going to punk shows in Detroit and the attitude towards anyone under 18 was always so negative it was so refreshing to have the Freezer, which was a place where we made the rules. When hardcore bands used to play, there was sometimes as many as 6-7 bands on the bill. You would be in the crowd one minute and the next you were on the stage. To me this was what punk rock was all about.

WBSTYN - Why did the Allied break up?


PZ - I left the band in late ‘83, which really resulted in my complete exit from that scene. I was involved in the scene from day one and my life was completely absorbed in everything to do with it for 3 years. Although the early days were fantastic (when we were all united) the scene was really starting to divide as things progressed. The hardcore bands were becoming more and more like heavy metal bands (I detested heavy metal) and the violence that was surrounding the scene was really getting out of control. I just took a step back one day and realised I had very little in common with most of the kids involved. Punk rock to me was always very liberating but I found the close-mindedness of a lot of those kids very difficult to stomach. Regarding my departure from the Allied, I spoke about it with Allied singer Doug Bashaw at length, and although disappointed, he completely understood my reasons for leaving. There were no hard feelings; it was just that I needed to move on. Coincidentally, I only found out recently that they continued as a five piece for another three years (with members of the Displaced) after I left the band.



WBSTYN - When was the 1st NA show? First Allied show?


PZ - The first Negative Approach show was at a party in the basement of Todd Swalla (Necros drummer) in Maumee, Ohio. We had only been together a few months and were completely un-rehearsed but it was an amazing gig. Both John and myself had been in bands before and were used to having NO audience participation (except people throwing things at us) but this gig was completely different. All the Necros and their friends got right behind us with their support which really helped to calm our nerves (we were very nervous). It was that kind of support that really helped to install confidence in us as a band.



WBSTYN - Talk about your fanzine Real Threat and what inspired you to do it. How many issues did you do? What were some memorable reviews or interviews that were in there?


PZ - Although I was always in bands in one form or another I never wanted to pursue music long term as my real passion was always art and design (I’m a graphic designer today). Playing music was always secondary to me so getting the Real Threat off the ground was a big ambition of mine. My inspiration came from all sorts of UK fanzines like 48 Thrills, Sniffing Glue and Ripped and Torn, which were sent over from a cousin of mine in London. These fanzines to me really represented the DIY ethics of punk rock. After the hardcore scene started taking off I started getting into local fanzines like Anonymous, Touch and Go and most importantly the Smegma Journal which Barry Henssler used to publish. Barry taught me the art of photocopying, letrasetting (a primitive form of desk top publishing) and exposed me to a whole range of US/west coast fanzines, which I was completely unfamiliar with. The Midwest scene needed another fanzine to document what was happening and I also saw it as a great opportunity to write about bands a lot of the local kids would never have been exposed to. I loved the whole fanzine process and was amazed at the reaction I used to get from kids all over the world. To this day I still have the original letters from all sorts of Real Threat readers including Thurston Moore, J Mascis, GG Allin and Mensi from the Angelic Upstarts. Because producing a fanzine in 1981 was very time consuming (no Apple Macs, no internet, no email etc) I only ever published two copies of the fanzine. The third issue was just about finished (with an enlightening interview with Ian Mackaye) when I left the Allied, which also shut the doors on the Real Threat.




WBSTYN - How did the scene start to grow? How did everyone know each other?


PZ - When the Midwest scene first started it was just John Brannon and myself, the local skatekids, the Necros and Tesco from Lansing. Within months things really stared to progress and with each show more and more kids would turn up from all over Michigan and Ohio. We would think nothing of piling in a van and driving 3-4 hours just to play to 20 people. It was a very explosive and exciting scene and word of mouth spread very fast.


WBSTYN - What was the Midwest’s problem with T.S.O.L.?


PZ - Henry Rollins and the whole Black Flag crew had a big impact on hardcore, and when he left SOA to join Black Flag, a whole new macho attitude seemed to creep into the scene. There were stories of Rollins doing push ups and pumping iron before Black Flag shows and a lot of kids from our scene also adopted this macho stance (myself excluded). TSOL were notorious for wearing face makeup and this was something no self-respecting hardcore band was supposed to do. For everything great about the hardcore scene it was backward attitudes like this that really showed how narrow-minded some of the thinking was. I always found it slightly ironic how a band like the Misfits (who funnily enough also wore face make-up) were completely idolised in our circles whereas TSOL were despised. I personally never liked TSOL, not because they wore make-up (that I didn’t have problem with) I just thought they were a dreadful band.



WBSTYN - How big of a help was the presence of the Touch and Go mag? How did you meet Tesco and Dave?


PZ - I think it’s safe to say that without Tesco and Dave Midwest hardcore would never have happened. They were not only influential in bringing a lot of those bands together but they also helped us gain a certain amount of respect in the alternative music community through their Touch and Go fanzine. Tesco was also fairly older than most of us and because of this he had a more mature attitude, but when you saw him on stage with the Meatmen, maturity didn’t come into it (and I mean that as a big compliment)!



WBSTYN - How did you guys stumble upon the Freezer theatre? Describe the place as vividly as possible. Who was the initial person who found it? Who was the main person who booked it? When did it start having shows? How long did it last? What were the most memorable shows from there? Describe the space the best you can.


PZ - I actually played at the Freezer a year before the hardcore gigs started. I wouldn’t say I discovered it but I certainly played a part in getting hardcore bands to play there. When I was playing bass in my first band the Sleeves we found it impossible to get gigs locally because of our ages (we were only 15/16). One night I attended a Rock Against Racism gig at Wayne State University and hooked up with a promoter who also ran the Freezer and I talked him into letting my band the Sleeves play at their next show. Because Rock Against Racism was big with punk bands in England (and I was wearing a Brigade Rosse t-shirt – to look like Joe Strummer) the promoter put us on the bill without even hearing us. We played our first gig at the Freezer with all sorts of Reggae, Soul and Calypso bands. We used to cover (very poorly) Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ and also the Slickers ‘Johnny Too Bad’ and that was enough to get us several more gigs at the Freezer with the RAR crowd. I also helped John Brannon’s first band Static get a gig there but the politically correct audience didn’t take to John rolling around the stage on broken beer bottles and smothering himself in toothpaste (Static had a song called Toothpaste and Pills).Once we met up with the Necros we told them about the Freezer and Corey (being the shrewd business man that he was) made a few calls and the next thing we knew there was a gig with about 7 hardcore bands on the bill.
The Freezer itself was nothing more than a deserted shop front stuck in the middle of the Detroit’s Cass Corridor (very dangerous and run down area of Detroit). The club itself would hold about 150 people and was without a doubt the home to Midwest Hardcore. We graffited the walls, built the stage and turned it into a place of our own. My most memorable gigs from that time were at the Freezer (especially supporting Minor Threat the night it was closed down) just because it felt like home to most of us.


WBSTYN - How did you feel once you left the Midwest and found out people knew who you were and knew your songs? Were you surprised?

PZ - Completely surprised! Funnily enough it still happens to this day. The biggest shock came a few years ago when I was at a White Stripes gig in London and I met up with Ben Blackwell from Detroit’s Dirtbombs. He told me their guitarist (and most of the band) were big Negative Approach fans and they even did a Negative Approach cover at their soundcheck! It was just hard to believe that a band I helped form over twenty years ago still had some relevance today. At the time we thought the band would last about the duration of one of our songs (30 seconds) but somehow we’re still talked about today.


WBSTYN - What kind of impact do you think the Midwest scene made on the HC scene back then? What kind of impact do you think it made on culture in general?


PZ - If you talk about American hardcore you can’t deny the influence and impact the Midwest had on it. Each scene in the US was very different but I do think the bands from the Midwest certainly had a uniqueness that wasn’t displayed in some of the other smaller scenes throughout the country. With bands like the Necros, Negative Approach, L7, Violent Apathy, The Meatmen and the Allied they all had something different about them while still retaining loyalty to each other and the scene around them. Although I didn’t agree with all the attitudes that surrounded the Midwest Scene (which were quite sexist and very homophobic at times) at the end of the day it gave many kids the opportunity to look outside the small insular communities they came from and to help them develop ideas of their own to branch out and move forward. To me that’s what punk was really all about.


WBSTYN - How do you feel about the legacy the Midwest scene has left? What do you think it was about the Midwest scene that left such an impact? Do you even consider it a legacy?


PZ - I’d say a legacy is a bit of strong word to describe what we left but if we had some impact, and influenced others to do something equally creative, then that can’t be a bad thing. My only concern is that I feel kids today should be looking forward not backwards musically and concentrating on developing a scene or musical style that is unique to them (like we tried to do). Punk to me was all about youth and change and progression and it would be great to see another movement which is as exciting as what was happening with punk/hardcore in the early 80’s.

2 comments:

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  2. Grosse Point was a WEALTHY suburb in th 80's, not middle class. Rich kids.

    ReplyDelete