Published Apr 25, 2010Four years after eighth studio effort Death To Tyrants, New York hardcore originators Sick Of It All finally get their head-busting chops together for another round of rousing and subtly upbeat anthems. Packed with a whopping 14 tracks that run the gamut from uncompromising blasts of passion ("Death Or Jail") to grinding chug riffs ("Long As She's Standing") and half-time, chant-heavy, almost poppy tunes such as inspiring rant "Waiting For The Day," Based On A True Story features more highs than a Shanghai opium den. Without the dope-sickness, at that. In fact, seeing as this is the longest stretch SOIA have gone without releasing new material, it proves a quarter-century into their career that maybe taking a bit longer to set your shit straight is a really good thing. Reaching out once again to producer Tue Madsen (the Haunted, Hatesphere), who perfectly applied his understanding of metal to the band's crisp hardcore on Death To Tyrants, easily makes this their most cohesive, influential and memorable effort in over a decade. Most importantly, Based On A True Story reassures that SOIA aren't just the only old school NYHC band with something interesting to say. They're also still quite able to incite a rabid circle pit.
Death To Tyrants was considered an impressive album for Sick Of It Al,l but you managed to meet, and possibly surpass, it.
Singer Lou Koller: I don't know how it happened. It just all came together on this one, man. We really worked hard on Death To Tyrants and then a lot of people wondered how we were going to top it. It was good that we took almost four years between the two.
So it worked to your benefit because you had time to tinker?
That's something we learned. When we were on Fat Wreck Chords, we were treated great by them, but we fell into this rut: we'd tour for a year-and-a-half then run right into the studio, write songs and put out a record so we could get back on the road, get the advance and we'd live like that. But you can tell on those records that six or eight songs are great and the rest are just total filler crap. Anyone in the band will tell you we should have taken our time. We have different favourites on those records, but we could have had some great songs instead of great parts and then throwing crap around. Not this time though; we came up with some good shit.
Some bands don't have the guts to say their past albums weren't so hot.
I guess those people are "artists." We always joke about that when people ask what we do: we're "artists." To us, this is something we do for fun and we're happy that it's become our livelihood. I guess we're artists, but some people think that everything they do is good.
As this is the longest gap between records for you guys, was it on purpose because of the Fat years?
It just happened that way. We usually tour for a year to year-and-a-half between records before we start writing again. While touring for Death To Tyrants, we were also putting together the tribute record (2007's Our Impact Will Be Felt). All of a sudden, people kept asking us to tour even though it was just a tribute record we weren't even on. They said, "Well, tour anyway," which added a third year. Heading into the fourth year, we'd write for a month before heading out to festival dates. It all fell together.
Will you stick with the four-year plan in the future?
We'll see. We might not tour as much, but we'll certainly take more time to write and put stuff together.
Now you're with Century Media, where before you were on Abacus, an imprint of theirs. How did you make this shift upwards?
When we were approached to be a part of Abacus, we joked that they should just take us on Century Media. They said they wanted to start a label for bands that aren't exactly as metal as their other stuff, but are still aggressive. I think it was just the wrong people running it. If the guys who ran Century Media had a greater hand in it, it would have done okay, but they relied too much on the people they hired and it fell apart.
You're the one band they actually kept though.
Yeah, we started getting calls from other bands who were like, "Did you hear they're going to drop the label?" We knew we'd just keep on going, but a day after we got all those calls Century Media called up and said, "Don't worry, we're just absorbing you into us." We're like, "Good for us!" But the two owners of Century Media have been coming to see us in Germany since 1993, so they know us. They always joked that they wanted to sign us, but we were apprehensive 'cause they're so metal. We're not against metal or afraid of it, but we weren't sure if they'd know how to handle us. Actually, they've done an amazing job in Europe. They just have to prove it in the States. So far it seems good. We were shocked to see reviews of the record before it came out, not six months after. Wow! So far, so good!
You're surprised by the connection? It seems as if metal fans generally embrace hardcore, where it might not always be the other way around.
Totally. Some of our best tours are with metal bands. Our first tour out of NYC was in' 88 or '89 opening for Exodus. That was amazing. I hate to talk bad about punk kids because we have a lot of punk influence. We're influenced by old school bands like G.B.H. and the Exploited, all of that. But when we tour with punk bands ― we took the Unseen out, but their fans wouldn't even give us a chance. They'd turn around and leave the room because we didn't have Mohawks and studded leather jackets. To me, that's so weird. Isn't punk anti-fashion? But that's what they wanted. It didn't matter how good, aggressive or catchy our music was. It was sad. It kind of made me angry.
I've seen it: bands playing with acts like the Casualties who don't have the gear get shafted.
Yeah, I went to see the Dropkick Murphys a few years back. I'm standing there and two guys from the Casualties come up and say they're big fans, how they love SOIA. I'm like, "I love you guys too. We should do shows together." But there's the thing: will their fans be accepting of us? Will our fans be accepting of them?
It's sad that punk has devolved into a uniform for each sub-genre.
Yeah, and you can see how some band have the look: a studded leather jacket with a Crass patch on the back and Liberty spikes. But you hear their music and it's pop. Where's the aggression? Why are you not screaming that you hate the world? What's wrong here? When I was a kid and had spiky hair and Pete [Koller, guitarist] had a Mohawk, we used to get shit from people. That's what made us angry and fight back! These guys now, I don't know what they do if people yell at them ― go home and cry? I'm not a tough guy by any means. When I was a teenager I must have weighed 90 pounds, but still.
I've even seen squeegee punks with cell phones.
Yeah! That cracks me up. Walking down St. Mark's, I saw a punk sitting there with a sign that said she was homeless. I know the deal that half of 'em are fake and whatever, but her phone rings in her pocket and she pulls it out! God, you can't wait for five minutes with your little fake sign?
At least you appreciate it though. Some people don't find the hilarity in it.
Oh, yeah. Actually, on that tour with the Unseen, the singer said, "On nights when I don't put my Mohawk up, we get a lukewarm reaction, but when it's up, they just go crazy! We could suck but they'll go nuts!" We laughed about it.
To be fair though, you do find acceptance by both scenes, punk and metal.
Oh, yeah. And we had a lot of punk kids get to know us when we were on Fat. Actually, the first tour we did on Fat was opening for Slayer. All these punk kids came out and said, "We just came to see you guys." We were flattered, but said, "Well, you'd better stick around and see Slayer, 'cause that's a fuckin' experience."
Back to the record, do you think you nailed it or are there those spots that get under your skin?
It's that whole "This is our best album" situation. We hit everything we wanted. There are parts that I'd like to go back and change, but that's only after being on the road with the songs and getting more comfortable with them. They're great the way they are, but sometimes when you get to know the song, you find different ways of doing things that you might like more than how you recorded it. On "Lifeline," I had the lyrics but I didn't even sing it. I used my usual screaming/speaking voice. I did it and then Armand [Majidi, drums] goes, "Why don't you do this?" He came up with the way it's on the record. I'd only done it twice and the second take is what you hear on the record. Now I love it. It's totally different than the way I pictured it. After doing it live, I'm comfortable so I'm doing different things. Still, on the record I think it's great.
I'm a fan of "Waiting For The Day." I like it when you break up the old school hardcore with the chant-along songs.
It's weird. We get people who say we should only do the heavy stuff. Others want more of the sing-along stuff. To us, it's a good mix. When we wrote "Waiting For The Day," it was just another song, but some reviewer said it's almost Social Distortion-like. We were blown away. That's a pretty good compliment. Mixing it up keeps things from being one-dimensional or boring. I love the heavy stuff. I love a good fast song that goes into a heavy breakdown; it gets me going. We write towards how things feel live. We don't sit around going, "If I was sitting around the house stoned, would I want to put on this CD?" No. If I were going to see a band live what would make me go wild? Maybe we'd sell more records if more stoned people liked us though.
You guys are too modest for your own good. You don't realize how many fans you have.
Well, we know bands are fans. I never think fans are fans though. It's funny, 'cause every year we play, we'll see it: who's the hot band of the year. We can call it. We could be A&R guys. Some get to the point where they're at their peak thinking, "This is going to last forever," but we're like, "Hey, we were like that in '95/'96. We were the big band in Europe, thinking we were kings. Then in '97/'98, it started to shrink." They don't think it's possible though. There's another side to it. We played shows with Bring Me The Horizon a bit ago and when they went on the whole front was three rows deep of young girls wearing these Day-Glo T-shirts. I'm looking at these guys taking the stage thinking it's going to be some weird emo act. They played some of the heaviest shit I ever heard! And the girls were growling Cookie Monster vocals along with the band! I was like, "These guys are going to be big for the next three years." Sure enough, they're the big thing. What was good though was that some of the kids actually stayed when they finished. Most of 'em walked to the back when Madball came on and we came on, but a bunch stayed and said they'd never seen anything like us. We're not metalcore, but we have a heaviness and an energy they really appreciated. That's the thing: trying to get the younger audience who are into heaviness and aggressiveness, but only know a particular sound to branch out from their era.
It's the whole gateway drug situation where kids like something and then trace their influences.
Well, you hope so. That's what sucks about kids downloading, even legally: you don't get the liner notes or the thank you list. You don't get the picture of the Metallica guys wearing a Discharge shirt. You don't get that shit in a fuckin' download.
Well, after almost 25 years, you've been through the ringer so maybe that's where your modesty comes from. But you're still here, unlike some of the bands that thought it would "last forever."
I'm sure the other bands are too, but it's not cushy where everyone in the band had their own tour bus. We just did a tour of England in a van. We haven't done a van tour in Europe since 1992. It was a little stressful, but we had so much fuckin' fun. Some nights, we'd play late, get two hours of sleep and have to drive eight hours. We're all in the van half-groggy and that delirium makes everything funny. When we first saw the van, there were three seats in two rows facing each other. We were like, "Well, this is either going to make us stronger or we're going to break up staring at each other for the next two weeks." Surprisingly, it all worked out. (Century Media)