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Interview: John Joseph of Cro-Mags

Underground News Tuesday, 11 April 2017 16:52

Absolute Underground: This upcoming tour is celebrating the 30 year anniversary of the Age of Quarrel album. Do you still get the same feeling playing the songs now as you did then?

John Joseph: I mean, if you read the lyrics from the album, a lot of them still apply. If I didn’t get the feeling from playing the music then I wouldn’t be doing it. You can’t fake this kind of stuff. When I wrote those lyrics they were from the heart. They were based on philosophy and a type of spirituality… and then the street aggression stuff… I wasn’t singing about a particular political party. I don’t think these lyrics are subject to time. I think what was happening then, it keeps going on. So, yeah, I still get the same feeling. As a matter of fact, its even a little more intense now because of what has happened in the last 30 years. It has become a lot more deceptive, the way that they control the masses. You had Obama for eight years acting like a nice, wonderful guy, who was all over the Middle East, killing innocent people with drone bombs, and bailing out bankers and deporting 3.2 million people, and selling us out to the corporations and big pharma with Obamacare and everything else, and nobody said shit. He did it with a smile, but at least you know what the fuck you’re getting with Trump. He’s a piece of shit. This guy conned everybody. It’s almost like “Sign of the Times.” It’s relevant today. We weren’t writing about Ronald Reagan or whoever the fuck. I tried, when I wrote them lyrics, to really keep it from a universal place. It’s a matter of a certain amount of sobriety too, to be aware of things that’s happening. It takes constantly being informed. I personally believe that these lyrics are even more relevant now than they were 30 years ago.

AU: Well, that sort of answers my next question. I was going to ask you how the album has stayed relevant. It’s still a quintessential punk rock album.

JJ: Yeah, that album was named after something that came out of the Vedic teachings from India. It was called Kali Yuga, the age that we’re living in, and that’s why I named the album The Age of Quarrel. I had just left the Hari Krishna… we started this thing in ’81 and it was more about the street. The original lineup with myself, Dave Hahn, Dave Stein… it was more street culture type stuff. When I left the temple where I had been studying philosophy and living as a monk, it definitely took on a whole new depth. With writing songs like “It’s the Limit,” “We Gotta Know,” “Seekers of Truth,” and “Malfunction,” that stuff doesn’t go out of fashion. The truth was the truth 1000 years ago and it will be the truth 1000 years from now. That’s how you stay relevant. You write stuff dealing on a universal level. Not to compare us with Marley because we don’t come close, but I just heard Bob Marley last night, someone was playing it from a car in the street, and I was like “wow.” Those lyrics… “until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, everywhere is war.” Look at today, they’re playing the race card, they’re race-baiting in America especially. The media is so corrupt in America, it’s ridiculous. They just race-bait and play everybody against each other. Donald Trump is serving this exact principle and they put him in office. Make no mistake about it, the same way they put Bush in office, the shadow government which is controlled by the corporations and the banksters, they put Obama in and they put Trump in. As long as they keep everybody divided…. It’s not just in America either, it’s happening all over the world. The last thing that they want is for the people to unite and uprise against the government. I mean, it’s not like we are going to defeat them in a revolution, picking up arms against them. The revolution is a state of consciousness. When we elevate ourselves, work on ourselves and expand our consciousness, then we want nothing to do with the system. That’s the real revolution. That’s what Bob Marley was talking about, that’s why he said, “soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary, and I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.” I’m not advocating violence against anybody. I’m advocating for you to unplug yourself from the system, and that’s what I would say even when The Age Of Quarrel lyrics were being written. Unplug yourself from what these guys got goin’ on. The minute you don’t give a shit about their system and their politics and their crap, all of that stress… I don’t even watch that shit. Everyone’s flippin’ out… that’s exactly what they want. You fell right into their plan. That’s why I don’t subscribe to any political party or any kind of ideology even… this ism, that ism, black power, white power, it’s all fucking bullshit.

AU: Looking back on The Age of Quarrel, is there anything you wish you had done differently in terms of recording?

JJ: Hey, you know, I went in there and they made me sing that whole album in one day. That’s why my voice is kind of wheezy in places. The songs are performed a lot better now. Currently we have Max Mackie who performed on The Age of Quarrel. AJ Novello, from Leeway, has been in the band for 20 years. And then usually it’s Craig Scully playing bass. You know, it is what it is. Everybody likes to go back and say, “I wish I could have done this…” Everything happened the way it was supposed to happen. That’s the way I look at it.

AU: Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in Iron Man?

JJ: Yeah, I’ve done eight Iron Mans and a couple of Olympic-distance triathlons. I compete. I just did the World Championships in October of 2016 and raised $50,000 for a boy with a brain tumour. It’s for the Children’s Tumour Foundation. I raise money for his family’s medical costs. I’m racing in Australia in June and then Kailua in October again. It’s just to challenge myself. This year I raced in the 55-59 category. It’s just part of what I do. I write books about health. I’ve got another book coming out, a plant-based cookbook. I’ve been not eating meat for almost 36 years. So I just do it as a way to challenge myself and show people anything’s possible, ya know? A lot of people didn’t take care of themselves over the years, especially in the music scene. It’s never too late to turn yourself around. I choose to be sober and come at life with the value of life, because I’ve witnessed a lot of death and been close to it myself. The Iron Man… it’s a motherfucker, you know, to do that race. Anyway, like I said, I’m not a pro athlete or anything like that, but it gives me a mindset where I don’t quit. It carries over into everything in life. When you develop the mindset that no matter what…. I mean, I’ve had my nose broke on swims. The first Iron Man I did with a stress fracture in my foot. We played a show the night before, I did it on no sleep. I drove back from the show, got in the shower and then jumped in the water and started the day. That mentality of, “I’m not gonna quit, no matter what,” carries over into everything else.

AU: Including the music, right?

JJ: Oh yeah, absolutely. I just recorded a new album with this new band, Bloodclot. Couple of members of Queens of the Stone Age and Todd Youth who was in Agnostic Front. Even to make that album, it took us a year from when me and Todd started writing it. We just kept going and we didn’t quit. That’s what happens. You don’t sit there worrying. You do things because you love them. Not like some of these Iron Man people… if the time isn’t what I expected, I’m not gonna beat myself up over it. You always do your best, but you don’t do it because of the result, you do it because you love to do it.

AU: The Cro-Mags and all of the other bands to come out of New York had a very distinct sound that was geographically concentrated around the city. How would you explain such a localized scene getting a worldwide following?

JJ: You know, it’s New York, man, and I think a lot of the world looks towards New York. There was primarily three big scenes, I would say, in the US. I mean, Boston was big, but it was never like New York or DC or LA. And it’s like, what did you have in DC? Most of those kids were from upper-middle class families. In LA, you got the beach, you got the surf. New York, we were down in the shit. I’m not taking anything away from the West Coast bands. Black Flag, I loved. And Minor Threat and the rest of them. In New York, you had to deal with, you know…. I speak for the Cro-Mags because we were living this shit in the burnt out buildings. At least two of us were, anyways. And Mackie was all about the graffiti scene. The original guitar player lived on the Upper East Side. Without Kevin Parris (Mayhew) the album would never have happened. If you removed any one of those four people, and even though Doug (Holland) played on the record, he just came in after the fact, he didn’t write anything on Age of Quarrel, not even one guitar riff, if you would have taken away anyone who played on the demo which later became Age of Quarrel, you wouldn’t have Age of Quarrel. I mean, Mikey put those drum feels in there, on “We Gotta Know,” and all that, that added to the sound of the band. And then the bass playing and the guitar and the vocals, so… I speak for myself personally, but I went through really being on the streets, as a kid getting locked up and coming back out and living in real dangerous situations. It got to the point, that I talk about in my book, that this drug gang was beating up all the kids. No one would fight these guys, and I did, and they were lookin’ to kill me. And no one wanted to be seen or hang out with me, ‘cause if you were with me you’re gonna get shot. So it’s one thing to talk about shit, like some of these bands I see singing about the streets, I’m like, “What kind of streets are you singing about in 2017?” Unless you’re living in South Central, which ain’t no hardcore bands comin’ outta there, you don’t know shit about the streets. And I’m not talking about Canadians, most of these bands are in America. Even in Europe, kids were singing about the suburbs of Germany, about the streets or whatever. It’s like, that’s fantasy land. And I don’t try to put anybody down but you can’t sing about shit you didn’t go through. I was going through the shit I was writing about. Just like in my book, Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, you can hear the realness in the book comin’ off each page. And it’s the same with the music. So, you know, hip-hop came out of New York, a lotta shit came outta New York, man. And I was going to Max’s and CB’s in the day and the ones who really brought that sound to New York was the Bad Brains when they came up here in ’79. Them dudes from DC were out in LA and they brought the slamming back with them. Before that nobody slam danced or skanked or stage dove or any of that shit. That was something that them cats from DC brought back to the east coast. I remember I was in the military back then, and I would come up with them cats. There was only a couple people in New York that even knew how to slam dance. But then when it took hold in New York it was, you know… that’s what I mean about the New York hardcore shit, we wasn’t living on the beach and we wasn’t living in the suburbs of DC, it was more real.

AU: On that topic, do you think there could ever be a better hardcore band than the Bad Brains?

JJ: Nope. Never was, never is, never will be. End of story.

AU: What’s your favourite thing about touring Canada?

JJ: Aw man, the people. I love Canada, but the winter is a motherfucker. Last time I was up there was in February some years ago and it was brutal. I like the Canadian people and the shows. I like to travel. I just got back from Japan. Whether it’s music or lecturing on health, I’m pretty much visiting a lot of areas of the planet. We have a lot of history with Canada. The first show we ever did outside of the United States was in Canada.

AU: You’ve told us a little bit about your new band, Bloodclot, already. You released a song back in November called “Up in Arms.” It paints a pretty grim picture of the state of the world, and I think rightfully so. Do you have any hope for the future?

JJ: Yeah, I do. I don’t just find the fault in shit, I look for a solution. But what’s the solution? Fighting things with politics? That’s not gonna solve anything. First of all you need to make people understand the sickness that’s out in the world. If you think, karmically, that you’re just gonna go kill billions of animals every single year in the United States alone, and go overseas and drop bombs on people and fucking kill people and do all this shit, that that is not gonna cause karma to every single person here, you’re naïve. I even say it in the lyrics, “What comes around goes around.” That’s the way the world works. Even the cover on the album is a US bomb that was dropped in Yemen, illegally, on a wedding party. We bombed them because we believed, through faulty intelligence, that they were terrorists. So they killed all the women and children. It’s disgusting what’s going on because that’s the military industrial complex. That’s the crooked politicians, the war contracts. What’s our biggest export? It’s death. America’s biggest export is death. We are arms dealers to the fucking world and that’s why we have these wars, because it means money for us. People still think that a bunch of guys with boxcutters fuckin’ did 9/11. I mean, that’s how fucking stupid some of these people are. They are just programmed by the media. So what we have to do is unplug from all of that bullshit and see how things really work. And in order to do that, you have to work on yourself. “Up in Arms” paints a realistic picture and the reality is grim. We have to become fed up with the bullshit and then we can fight to change things. If we just vote for A party or B party and don’t really sort things out on our own, nothing is gonna get better. So that’s the title track of the album.

AU: When can we expect the album to come out?

JJ: The album comes out in July. We were shooting for April/May and then it got pushed back a little bit. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the Cro-Mags.

AU: That’s it. Anything you would like to add?

JJ: The second edition of Evolution of a Cro-Magnon is available at the end of this month. It hits stores April 3rd. There are new chapters, there’s a new audiobook. A portion of the proceeds goes to this boy’s family who has cancer. Check it out and that’s about it.


Last modified on Tuesday, 11 April 2017 17:17
Written by  Stepan Soroka

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