TODD SWALLA TALKIN' EARLY NECROS AND WHATNOT...
How did you first become aware of Punk Rock? Prior to the UK stuff, were you aware of the MC5, Stooges and the stuff going on in the Midwest?
I grew up with the MC5 and the Stooges. My brother had all those records when they came out and he listened to them a lot. We used to put "Kick Out the Jams" on 78 and freak out and jump on the bed and stuff like that. He listened to the New York Dolls a lot as well. My first exposure to what was actually called "Punk Rock" was on the national news during the whole Sex Pistols media blitz of 77/78. You could not get away from it for a good many months. Then my brother bought "Leave Home" by the Ramones and it was all over!
What were some of the first Punk records you got ahold of and what kind of impact did they have on you?
The aforementioned Ramones album, Heartbreakers-‘LAMF’, Devo, Dead Boys 1st, Elvis Costello albums, Generation X, A comp called "New Wave" which had a lot of great stuff and some really bad stuff on it as well. Television-‘Marquee Moon’, not really punk but we loved it! Tuff Darts, we bought Wire-‘Pink Flag’ on a whim because it had a warning about the swear words on the record, this of course turned out to be an amazing album! In Toledo, Sex Pistol's product was not really available until the U.S. album came out for some reason. We made several trips to Drome Records in Cleveland, We started buying Buzzcocks, The Damned, Sham 69, various import 45's, Pagans, The Saints, UK Subs etc... Then our local stores starting having "Punk" sections... All of these records made a huge impact on our feeble little minds. It was a whole new world opening up.
What kind of music were you into prior to Punk Rock?
I was into Sabbath, Nugent, Aerosmith, Kiss, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, The Tubes, along with The Stooges and the Five, anything that was loud and not wimpy. I saw The Stooges at the Ann Arbor Art Fair in 1970 though I was only 7. My first rock concert was The Tubes in Toledo probably early 76. Toledo had a fairly vibrant concert scene but no local bands of any merit. Tom Scholz from Boston was the big Toledo rock star. The clubs were all booking cover bands from what I have been told.
What record stores in the area were stocking Punk records?
Boogie Records was the local indie store and they would order anything for us even though the clerks made fun of it. Peaches had a punk/new wave section that a metal head employee named Chuck set up. Disc Records was in the mall and this is where Tim Story worked, he did not make fun of us and would go ahead and order stuff on his own and turn us on to it. A bond with Tim was created and he ended up recording our first 45. Special Records opened later, closer to the Hardcore period.How did you guys eventually find out about the West Coast bands? Probably thru Slash and Flipside for LA and Search and Destroy for SF stuff in that order. You had to have every Dangerhouse release to complete your 45 collection. We were all in love with Penelope Houston! We had also hooked up with Jeff from the San Francisco Punk band No Alternative who was from Toledo and was visiting his parents. He turned us on to a lot of SF stuff and encouraged us to be a band.
Did you skate prior to being in the band? How do you think the Punk thing and the skating thing worked together?
I met all of my future band mates thru skateboarding. I had already known Corey because our parents made us go to church and his Mom was friends with mine. Barry would hang out at Church functions with Corey sometimes. He had already been seriously skating for a few years by this time. By this I mean he had pro equipment bought by mail order from California. I was still stuck on a plastic Huffy from K-Mart. I met Andy and David Cooke at a skate demo they did at the library in Maumee. David was the best skater in the area and ended up taking me under his wing. Jeff Lake also skated and went to my Mom's church. I met Brian Hyland at the Toledo skate park. Andy and I ended up going to Catholic High School together our Freshmen year. We both got kicked out and he went to Maumee HS and I went to Bowsher HS in Toledo. At St. Francis he turned me onto Skateboarder Magazine and lent me an issue so I could get my Mom to order me a real board. Thru that magazine and Action Now we learned about punk rock along with the initial Sex Pistols media blitz on TV. In my opinion, the Detroit Hardcore scene would not have happened without the energy of the skate scene that was already happening. Being skateboarders from the Midwest we were automatically drawn to Southern California surf/skate culture. We were always up on the latest things coming from out West. The skaters adopted that whole Huntington Beach vibe and infused the energy into a dull and dying Detroit Punk/New Wave scene and re-vamped it to how we imagined it was out west. Jack boots, cropped hair, bandannas and chains, 30 second songs etc.. We all tried to look like the skankman for a period. All the dudes in DC and Boston skated too, its nothing really too surprising. On that Minor Threat trip to Madison we encountered a scene that was ALL skaters. I copped the whole Bermuda shorts thing from Bucky and those dudes and dropped the boots and braces thing for a Black Flag/ thrift store and Vans look.
How did the relationship with Tesco and Dave at Touch and Go start up?
I think they wrote to us first via Smegma. Either that or Barry picked up Touch and Go in Ann Arbor and wrote to them. They came to a show of ours in Ann Arbor at the Xanadu Co-op and took us under their wing after that. Those guys encouraged us to act like Punk Rock brats but they also made us confident as a band. Two of the finest men I will ever have the honor of knowing!
What inspired the creation of Smegma Journal? How did you distribute the magazine in the start?
Smegma was Barrys’ thing and he would have us write record and show reviews. His parents paid for it with the back cover ad for their wine shop which was across the street from Barrys’ house. We all worked there at one time or another. At first we gave it away but then we started putting issues on consignment at School Kids in Ann Arbor and Boogie in Toledo. It got to be too much for Barry with the time involved in the band so I think he just lost interest plus we were intertwined with Touch and Go at that point.
How did you become aware of the slam dancing/stage diving rituals that were starting in LA?
At first, through the LA and San Francisco fanzines. I remember a big article in S.F's Damage about the whole Huntington Beach thing and a review of that famous Circle Jerks invasion of S.F where the HB crew followed them up to wreck havoc. Then of course Corey came back from LA with the gnarly Starwood videos of Flag, the Adolescents and China White. Watching these videos was like Hardcore 101.
Lets talk about the start of the Necros. Give me the full lowdown on how it got together, what inspired it, etc.
David Cooke, Barry and myself were being carted home by my Mom from the Toledo skate park. This was late ‘77 or early ‘78, right in the middle of the whole Sex Pistols media blitz being played out on National TV. Punk Rock was on the news every night for a good 4 or 5 months culminating with the death of Sid Vicious. We were already into loud aggressive Rock 'N Roll albeit Ted Nugent and Aerosmith etc.. but this stuff was way crazier and as loud as those older Detroit groups my brother was into. We dug out the old Stooges and Dolls records and started listening to them again. My brother cut all his long hair off and his friends did as well. They started a punk band way before the Necros were even conceived, The Dangling Abstractions. David Cooke came up with the name Circle Jerks as a joke but something about necrophilia was thrown about as well. I think Barry came up with the condensed version. I don't think we started actually practicing until winter of ‘78 which means we talked about it for over a year.
Once you guys got a hold of those early LA punk singles, did it change anything in the style of the band?
It was more the influence of those Dangerhouse 45's than just LA bands. Remember The Avengers and The Dils were from SF and those records are two of the best. It seems we could relate more to them because they were from the states. We still dug English punk but it’s hard for a 16 year old living in suburban Ohio to relate to someone from England singing about the dole and tower block riots. That Weirdos 45 is probably one of the best punk singles ever. The Germs album was a turning point. Darby was our new Iggy. Then Barry discovered Black Flag and it was all over. We had to play harder and faster; it had been pre-ordained.
Do you remember the 1st gig you guys played? What was it like?
Let’s clear things up first. Contrary to what "American Hardcore" states our first gig was not at the VFW Hall in Ann Arbor opening for the Cult Heroes. The first Necros gig was on Halloween night 1979 at a University of Toledo watering hole known as The Brass Bell. We were friends with one Steve Athanas who sang for a new wave cover band known as The Best. They decided to sneak us in and let us play during one of their breaks. We were awful but we did have a lot of attitude. Barry got in a fight with some frat dude on stage and he kicked him. Brian Hyland played the whole set with his pants down to his ankles. It was the first real drum set I had ever played. We played for like 15 minutes and we were done. Then we had to hang out in the Pizza Place next door because we were too young to be in the bar.
How did you get to know the other people that would make up the Midwest scene like Negative Approach, Violent Apathy, The Fix, Bored Youth, etc?
We met Pete and Brannon early on at a Madness show at the Punch and Judy. Later we ran into Brannon at a Subhumans (Canada) show at Wayne State. We introduced stage diving and pig piles at that show. We'd already known Larissa for a few months I suppose. This was like mid 1980 most likely. Through Brannon and Pete we met all the Detroit skate punks. We met Violent Apathy and The Fix through Tesco. Bored Youth were just kids who had been going to shows and I think they approached Corey about getting on some bills. We had also met the Toxic Reasons in the summer of 1980 at a big RAR show in Clark Park which had DOA headlining. Bad Brains were also on the bill but ended up cancelling.
English Oi! Music played a big part in the early Midwest scene. How did you become aware of these bands? What was your interpretation 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?
We read Sounds of course! We were already into Sham, UK Subs and the Upstarts and these bands had a similar vibe, though most of them kind of sucked. Exotic would not be the term I would use. We quickly realized that we could play our instruments a lot better than most of these limeys could. The original core group of Detroit kids split apart because of Oi! music, ignorance and fear. The skaters continued to skate and listen to whatever...anything from Motorhead to The Descendents. The skinheads started drinking ale, bashing heads and listening to Skrewdriver, The Last Resort and The Effigies. It was very sad and quite humorous at the same time. I remember they were real bummed when Sab Grey "went punk". They jumped Corey one night at the Greystone and he got beaten up really bad, this was after he left the band and we had had our falling out. I hear some of the original skins are still into it after all these years. Pretty pathetic!
What was the first time the Necros left town for a gig. What was that like? What were some of your favorite 1st time out-of-town gigs?
Apart from Ann Arbor or Detroit we played a horrible show at a fag bar in Lexington, Kentucky. This was back when half of our set was Adolescents and Black Flag songs that nobody but us had even heard outside of California. Other faves would be the Boston show with SSD, Minor Threat, Meatmen and FU’S at some VFW hall. This was where we first did all of the songs for Conquest and re-introduced Andy on guitar and pretty much blew everyone else off the stage. It was a great feeling because we came to Boston and cleaned house big time. Others would be having Goldenvoice fly us in to open for Motorhead, Lincoln Memorial with Fear and Void, first NYC show with the Jerks, there are too many to remember.