Interviews

Andrew Orlando (Black Army Jacket, Reservoir Records, Monkeybite Zine, Milhouse)

I spent many hours of my early 20s driving in a van with Andrew Orlando. In the mid-'90s, Orlando and I were bandmates in Black Army Jacket, but we had met some years prior to that when he was a member of Milhouse—a Long Island, NY-based outfit that played a Gravity Records-esque take on hardcore. In the '00s, we worked together again on Hope Collapse, recording an EP of grindcore that also featured drummer Dave Witte, another former member of Black Army Jacket. Orlando also played in D-beat worshippers Disnihil for a spell around that time.

Orlando is also known as the guy behind Reservoir, a label that released records by Spazz, Garden Variety, Silent Majority, and Pig Destroyer; and the powerviolence zine, Monkeybite. I've been meaning to set up an interview with him since I started doing No Echo, and we're finally here. My conversation with Orlando covered a lot of ground, but I think there's a lot of interesting tidbits many of you will enjoy.

Even though I've known you for over 20 years now, I'm still going to ask you some questions that I know the answers to so that our readers get some more insight into your background. So, let's start at the beginning. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Charleston, South Carolina (my dad was in the Navy at the time, and stationed there at the time of my birth). My parents are originally from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but we moved to Middle Village, Queens when I was young. I just say: "I grew up in Queens." Here is a fun fact about Middle Village: the town is completely surrounded by cemeteries. In one of those, John Gotti, Carlo Gambino, Lucky Luciano, and other reputed mobsters are buried. It kind of gives you an idea of the place, huh?

When did you start getting into music?

There was not much happening in Middle Village music-wise. In the early to mid-'80s it was guido-related music that ruled the area I grew up in. From early on, I knew I didn't fit in with that whole scene, so I naturally gravitated to KISS, Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, and Twisted Sister. I'd say a real turning point for me was hearing Slayer's Hell Awaits in 1985. I loved Iron Maiden, but it was Slayer who turned my world upside down. From there, it was all about seeking out faster and heavier music. I'm sure it's considered the typical progression into punk and hardcore for most our age.

Did you have a mentor?

As far as a mentor, it was not a person but a place: the East Village in NYC. I could get there from my house in 30 minutes for a $1 subway token. I would hit all the record stores like Bleecker Bob's, Venus, Some, CB's Canteen, and Tower Records. All the clothing shops and music stores opened up my world of underground discovery there.

I know your background in the NYHC scene is strong. Tell me about the bands from that era that had a big impact on you as a teen. What were some of your first hardcore/punk shows?

Just being in the East Village all the time, and those record stores, gave you a pipeline to all of those show flyers and demos. Buying demos was key, because only the established bands had 7"s or albums out. My absolute favorites from the NYHC heyday are Straight Ahead, Sick of it All, Raw Deal (best NYHC demo ever), Gorilla Biscuits, Rest in Pieces, Life's Blood, Token Entry, Agnostic Front, and Absolution. It's all a blur, but my first show was definitely Agnostic Front, and I was only 15. I was petrified, but I knew a couple of skinhead types that took my train to get to CB's, and they looked out for me. They were also nuts and told me straight up to cut my hair by next Sunday! The most memorable show was the "No Justice—Just Us" benefit for Roger of Agnostic Front. It was an unbelievable show from top to bottom.

Village Voice ad for the Roger Miret benefit show.

You went to Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you went to school with some other hardcore-related folks.

I hated that school and only went there because I was forced to. I listened to Black Flag, Descendents, and Bl'ast every day to drown out the pain (I was obsessed with Cali bands back then). Some other notable music people from that school were Fred Muench and Luke Montgomery from Bad Trip, the drummer from Bustin' Out, and Will Tarrant and Tom O'Hagan from Chainsaw Safety Records.

SEE ALSO: 2015 interview with Chris Weinblad (Trip Machine Laboratories, Atlas Shrugged).

When did you start Reservoir, and did you start it to release a specific record?

I started Reservoir Records in late 1992. I was a volunteer at Reconstruction Records in NYC once a week. I was very influenced by the labels Gern Blandsten, Wardance, Thrashing Mad (later to become Chainsaw Safety), and Struggle Records. These were all friends with labels that encouraged and helped show me how to do it. It was a very inspiring time for me to start Reservoir. Originally, I was talking to Arty Shepherd [Mind Over Matter, Bad Trip, co-owner of Brooklyn, NY bar/music venue St. Vitus] about doing a Long Island-only bands 7" comp as my first release. It never got off the ground, and when I found out Doc Hopper was looking for someone to do the vinyl for their Aloha album, I jumped at the chance and dove in headfirst.

What were some of the other labels and distros you corresponded with during those years? I distinctly remember going to Timojhen from Vacuum Records when we were on tour and playing in San Francisco.

Definitely Vacuum, but it was Ebullition and Revelation that took the most Reservoir releases for distribution. It is great to see Ebullition still going strong today. Kent always treated me well. As far as corresponding, I always talked to so many labels because I put my phone number in my Maximumrocknroll ads. Aside from the incessant faxes I would get from Japan in the middle of the night, I would always talk to kindred labels like Bovine about music. What ever happened to Sean Wipfli? I loved his band, Thug, and Bovine definitely made an impact on the mid and late '90s underground scene.

Let's talk about Milhouse. That group featured people from Long Island and Queens. How did you initially hook up with them to play guitar?

I'm pretty sure I met [vocalist] Artie Phillie and [guitarist] Brian Meehan at a Silent Majority show at the Right Track Inn in Freeport, Long Island. I think we all instantly hit it off because we are all wiseasses that made fun of each other and everyone else. We talked about doing a band and it was the Gravity Records "heyday," so that was the direction we took.

What ended up happening with you and Milhouse?

I got the boot after a bad show at some college one night. I think we played with Sleeper [formerly known as Serpico] at that show. I had really shitty equipment and did not know what I was doing at all. They were better off without me. I was very entrenched in Reservoir at the time and was definitely gravitating to the much heavier and faster side of things musically. That whole thing shaped my guitar playing because it was the catalyst for me practicing my ass off. I started experimenting with different tunings and discovered "Drop D." That was it for me—all I did was play as fast as I could after that.

SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Bricks Avalon (C.R., Phallacy, Miracle Drug).

I remember meeting you while you were still a member of Milhouse and we talked about stuff like S.O.B. and Brutal Truth. About a year later, I saw you at a Fugazi show and you told me you wanted to start a powerviolence type of band.

At the time we met, I was an Infest fanatic and could not fathom why there were zero bands in the NYC area doing that kind of music. It really bothered me and my mind was set. I saw a gap and was determined to forge a path for that. I had been practicing guitar and writing songs for a year already and had much of the demo all mapped out musically. Meeting you and already knowing [co-bassist] Chris Russo and [drummer] Dan Crowell from Half Man was the perfect timing for it. I had also talked to [vocalist] Rob Lawi when Lee Michael from Sound Views zine introduced us. I thought he would be a wild frontman from his chaotic shows with his previous NYC band, Altercate the Senses. Once we had that first practice and blasted out "S.O.C.M.," we all felt that electricity! Ralphy Boy from Disassociate was our godfather, as he gave us our first real show at CBGB's opening for Man is the Bastard. It was a dream-like beginning of the band for me. I could not believe the reaction to our 1996 demo, and it definitely affirmed my initial goals for the band. In the late '90s, there were only four bands actively playing extreme/fast music in NYC: Brutal Truth, Disassociate, C.R., and Black Army Jacket. Don't let anyone give you any revisionist history on that!

That was such a fun time in my life. I was 21 and touring and meeting a lot of cool people throughout the country. What are some of your favorite memories from the Black Army Jacket era?

All of it, man. But, especially the tours we did with Noothgrush and Benümb, mainly because of the friendships we forged. It was also an amazing time writing and recording the 222 album with Dean Rispler. We threw so many innuendos at him and each other with the running joke, "Your favorite band is..." Another thing that sticks in my mind when we first started is that we had no filter. If we wrote 20 new songs, those were getting used on a split with this band or that band. It was the split EP explosion back then. Sometimes I think we could have used the less is more approach with the material, especially early on. When we got Dave Witte, he was a really good filter for me. I would play him something new and he would just say, "No!" I loved his brutal honesty. I think our songs naturally got better with him, not just from the drumming side, but also from a cohesiveness standpoint. That is when we became a real unit.

Orlando performing with Black Army Jacket, 1997.

Why do you think Black Army Jacket broke up when we did?

Hard to say, but it seemed like we were all headed in different directions in life. Dave was starting Burnt by the Sun, you launched a label and website [Imperial Records, which released the solo debut of Goretex from the rap group Non Phixion], I was getting a new career started, plus going to school and getting married. A lot of stuff was happening to us. I remember we had a recording session that didn't pan out with Kurt Ballou, and that didn't help.

What was your favorite Black Army Jacket song, and why?

This is really hard to pick one. I love the songs on the 222 LP as a whole, but I really like the later stuff we recorded like "Lord of Murder." If I had to pick one, I'd say "Fortune Cookie," because it sounds catchy even though it has D-beat riffs and a typical hardcore mosh part.

When and why did you fold Reservoir? I felt like you were on a roll with great releases.

I folded Reservoir in 2000. It was a really tough decision, but as I said before, life took over and I had to devote my time to other things 100%. I did not feel like I would be doing the label justice as a back burner-type thing, so I folded it. My last release was Pig Destroyer's Explosions in Ward 6 album. Not a bad run after 23 releases.

What were some of the label's best-sellers?

I never pressed more than 3,000 of anything, and basically sold out of most releases. I guess they all sold well for the time. I do remember the Spazz/Monster X split 7" selling well quickly, also the Nothing's Quiet on the Eastern Front compilation sold fast. Hellbender was a slow but steady seller—Con Limón might still be one of my favorite records I put out. I love everything about that LP. The pair of Silent Majority 7"s had some killer songs on them.

Silent Majority's Distant Second 7", 1995.

What do you think was one of the most underrated records the label released?

Nobody remembers this band Farkcus Affair, but they were a great band from Long Island that was very similar to Garden Variety. They were so good but they broke up too soon. I'm really proud to have put out the releases I did, and it's cool to see some of those bands/members still doing cool stuff today.

A band that I know was very important to you was C.R. How did you guys meet, and what are some of your favorite memories of working with them?

I had known Mike D. and Bricks Avalon from their previous bands [Serpico and Phallacy, respectively]. I remember going to a show at the Joint in Staten Island and Bricks told me his new band was playing and that they sounded like Infest. I was like, "What the fuck?" Anyway, they played for like 10 minutes and destroyed everybody. Immediately after, I asked them to do their 7". That was it. From there we all became brothers. More than any band I worked with, they put the most thought into their records and presentation. It was really refreshing to see that.

To this day, it is difficult for me to put our relationship into words. I hate to say this to your readers who have never seen C.R., but you had to be there as a part of it to fully get it. I hope that makes sense and is not a copout answer. I want people to know that "C.R." is so much more than just records I put out. Those four guys are very special people. The coolest thing is they have all gone on to do some amazing music: Sheer Terror, Miracle Drug, Budos Band, Bastard Sapling, go check it all out!

Were there any bands you approached to do something with that declined? You know I love trivia like that!

I used to get a lot of demos, but I never really worked with a band based on that. It was always a friend situation, or I saw them live first. One record that I didn't decline, it just never saw the light of day, was the Assück 10". I convinced the band that it would be a good idea for them to cover the entire Reign in Blood album, and then I would put it out as a 10" record. They had all the songs down, and even played out live with the songs in their set. Unfortunately, they broke up before they could get into the studio to record it. I told them to make the songs Assück style, but from the live shows, I heard they stayed true to the originals but faster! The artwork was going to be a black cover with a pentagram on one side and an upside down cross on the other, there was going to be no band logo or information, just the record on blood red vinyl and the cover. It would have been so cool to put this out! Only the mighty Assück could have pulled this off and made it legit.

SEE ALSO: 10 Essential Venice Beach Songs, by Tor Nyman (Negative Self)

During the Black Army Jacket years, you and Gary Niederhoff from Noothgrush did a zine called Monkeybite. I know I might be biased because we're friends, but I think that's still one of the best zines that has come out of the hardcore scene.

That was something that happened very naturally. Gary and I corresponded a lot because of our bands. We eventually discovered a shared sense of humor and love for sci-fi and our music scene. Most of the zines ignored our bands and the bands we liked, so we did something about it. We were influenced by Hardware fanzine and their no-frills approach to the hardcore zine. We just put our twist on that, basically. Gary took care of the layout duties and I handled most of the interviews and the distribution side of it. We did three great issues and we had some material for a fourth issue, but not a lot, and we just slacked on it until it became too late to do it. We lost the momentum on it. It was tough for us to juggle with the other life stuff happening. I get a lot of requests for back issues of the zine. They are long gone, but you can find the scanned pages of all the issues online.

At some point you hooked up with Anodyne and helped them out for some live stuff, right?

I only played one show with Anodyne, which was Hellfest in Syracuse, NY. It was fun, but I was too busy to commit to anything, plus Anodyne was always the best as a trio. Go back and listen to Lifetime of Gray Skies, it holds up. I love those dudes and am still good friends with them today. Mike Hill was kind enough to release the Black Army Jacket discography on his now defunct Black Box Recordings label. I'm very proud of his work in Tombs, Savage Gold is one of my favorite records (he makes great coffee, too). Joel and Josh are in a sick two-piece band called Radiation Blackbody.

SEE ALSO: 5 Best Horror/Sci-Fi Hybrid Films, by Mike Hill (Tombs, Anodyne)

In 2005, me, you, Dave Witte, and Pete Ciccotto (ex-Milhouse, 52X) released an EP as Hope Collapse.

Hope Collapse, the riffs born out of the ashes of Black Army Jacket. Some of these songs were stuff we had for Black Army Jacket at the very end, but we tweaked them for Hope Collapse. I love the songs, but my only regret would be that we practiced more before we recorded it. I think we could have fleshed it out to be more devastating. I remember writing a bunch of songs for a follow-up, but we never got around to that, unfortunately.

Your next band was Disnihil, a D-beat sort of beast.

Okay, this goes back to Mike Hill. He and I always talked about doing a band where he was the frontman. I just thought it would be killer to see him unleashed on a crowd going off on the mic! The original lineup was Mike Hill, me, Joel and Josh from Anodyne, and Tom Clavin. We played a show with Mike singing and it was sick. One day, we were going to practice and everybody quit the band except Tom and I. It was crazy, but okay, because we quickly got another drummer (Jimmy Doom) and bassist (Sam Sputo) to fill out the lineup. We recorded a demo with Mike Hill engineering, and started to play shows in the New York area.

Did Disnihil get to do any touring? What were some of the highlights of your time in that band, and what led to you quitting?

I didn't do any touring as I just had my daughter in 2005. My time in the band was kind of short-lived, so the highlights for me were releasing the demo and the positive reaction we got from it, and playing local shows with some great bands like Baroness, Deathcycle, Kill Your Idols, Municipal Waste, etc. I quit the band because I just had my daughter and was enrolling in graduate school. There was no time for anything else. Those guys were younger than me and needed to experience all the stuff I had before with Black Army Jacket. I'm glad they did, and they released a cool record on Chainsaw Safety.

Have you played in any bands since Disnihil?

Nothing worth mentioning, but it's really tough these days for me with time. I told you last week that if you saw my calendar your head would explode. I'm just really busy with a lot of other stuff, and with a band I would not do it half-assed. I will say that if I did one, it would be a Voïvod Phobos-era rip-off band. I am obsessed with that album ever since Witte turned me on to it during a long drive on a Black Army Jacket tour. That album gets no respect, but it's probably their heaviest one. R.I.P., Piggy!

You recently reissued the Black Army Jacket album on your own label, Brainscan Records. You told me it was a nightmare dealing with the pressing plants to get that order in.

Somehow I was able to get a record pressed in five months. Other people trying to put out vinyl today are not so lucky. I feel bad for the established labels and bands that just wait and wait for their records to be pressed. This is all due to Record Store Day bullshit and major labels getting in on the vinyl game. It's clogging up the vinyl pipeline for the D.I.Y. folks! Anyway, I had fun doing the reissue and did not sweat about the timeframe because we are not an active band that needed this to be out. It was a pretty eye-opening experience, though. Doing a label in 2016 is very different from the Reservoir days. It took some getting used to.

The cover art for the 222 album reissue, 2015. (Artwork: Godmachine)

Outside of the reissue, what else have you been up to lately?

I have a family and spend a lot of time with them. There is nothing better for me, I love being home with my kids (and records!). I'm still living on Long Island. I work in logistics and that seems to get busier every year. I can't complain. I train in the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu five days a week, so that also keeps me very busy. I plan on doing some competitions in 2016. I'm just really focused preparing for that, physically and mentally.

Andrew Orlando, 2016.

Since you're a huge vinyl collector, I have to ask you what your five most sought-after records are right now?

Only five?

  1. SSD, The Kids Will Have Their Say LP
  2. Agnostic Front, United Blood 7"
  3. Minor Threat, Filler 7" (red cover)
  4. Voïvod, The Outer Limits LP
  5. Bathory, Bathory LP (on Black Mark, yellow cover)

I can be reached on Instagram (@brainscanrecords) if you have any of these for sale or trade!

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