Interviews

Enrage Vocalist Jeff Altieri on Staten Island Hardcore, Horror Flicks + More

Photo: Justin Borucki

It was 1985 at Susan E. Wagner High School, Staten Island, NY. I think it was an English class. Sitting right up front in the first aisle (because we were seated in alphabetical order) was Jeff Altieri. I recognized him because I had seen him at L’Amour in Brooklyn at an Overkill/Savage Thrust show. We started talking about music. I seem to remember us bonding over the D.R.I.'s Violent Pacification. Fast forward 34 years and Jeff and I are still dear friends. Family, even. 

Jeff is the frontman for long-running hardcore band, Enrage. The group has been around for over 30 years, paid their dues over and over again, and is just now really getting proper recognition for their efforts. In addition to Enrage, Jeff also books shows, bartends, and is a High School teacher. Jeff and Enrage’s accomplishments are many, and their story should be heard. 
 
Please introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

I’m a nobody, I have no business being here — in fact, I’m going home now…. OK, OK, my name is Jeffrey Diofebo Altieri (Diofebo translates to “God’s Favorite” I kid you not). In our hardcore community, I go by the name "Jeff Enrage." I front the band Enrage and I currently book bands at Mother Pugs Saloon here on Staten Island. I recall you thinking the name of Pugs was called “The Piggly Wiggly” or something  [laughs].
 
[Laughs] That's true! I always remember Mama Altieri having music on in the house. How did that influence your relationship with music growing up?

I never realized the impact ‘til somewhat recently. Music is everything, man. It’s life. She always had doo wop and soul on, and all the pop music from the '70s .I think that’s why a band like the Ramones was a simple progression for me because they were verse, chorus, verse, chorus... ya know?  
 
Was there any one song, artist or record that was really impactful for you? Anything that you can pinpoint that started a lifelong musical obsession?  

I’m sure I’ll think of something later, but now I can’t think of one song, artist or record that was really impactful. Maybe the Blues Brothers record and movie. That movie made me want to grow up to have “soul." I was fascinated by it. I can tell you that my mom was crazy scared of the Devil. She’s old-school Italian Catholic and the Satanic Panic was a big thing when I was a kid, so I think her forbidding heavy metal in the house made me want to discover it. It was forbidden fruit. 
 
Give us an idea of your musical taste timeline.. where’d it start? How did it develop over time?

Hmm… I think the stuff I mentioned, oldies, soul, doo wop, pop, metal, punk, hip-hop, hardcore, and grunge, too. I loved that stuff when I first discovered it. Early Nirvana, Soundgarden. Thing is, for the most part, I never really abandoned the other genres once I got into a new one. Even the pop music I still secretly liked — now not so secretly. 
 
What’s your thrash name? (inside joke) 

That is easy, my friend: The Executioner, himself. I think I based that off the first Hallow’s Eve album cover [laughs].

Aside from music, I recall you being a huge fan of all things horror. Tell us a little about that. Are you still as big a fan today? 

Yeah, totally. I was the lanky tall kid who morphed into the chubby kid who didn’t play sports, so I was into all the nerd culture (which ironically gals now as are into now) Horror, Dungeons & Dragons, wrestling... I’m still a huge horror fan. I just watched 2 or 3 movies this past week alone.  

What are you Top 5 horror flicks and why?

That’s so tough. Ya know, I don’t know if I have a Top 5 because I break that up into categories [laughs]. I know I’m not into the slasher stuff that much, and I love foreign horror. The French were making some insane stuff for a while. For a while since nothing scared me, so I started watching them really messed up movies: Salò, A Serbian Film, etc. I got disgusted and wasn’t scared [laughs]. 

I think the GOAT is The Exorcist. The cultural ramifications alone are massive. Did you know that Catholic schools were taking kids on field trips to see that movie?! I think when you see that movie as you get older, you understand stuff that didn’t mean much when you see it as a kid. Like, we all know about Linda Blair’s character cursing, but like, when she talks like the priest’s mom" “Dimi, why did you do this to me?” She was playing on his guilt. It’s an incredibly powerful moment. There are two movies I recommend as the best “disturbing” non-horror films: Compliance and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Do you want to talk about any pre-Enrage and non-Enrage bands?

None really did anything. I think we did Civil Terror together (Yes! We took the name from a song on the B.G.K. Nothing Can Go Wrong LP— Mike De Lorenzo). I also had FSM, that’s right, the "Fat Slobic Moshers" because at 13 that was funny to me and S.O.D. was the greatest thing since sliced bread at the time. [laughs]
 
Enrage has been a band for over 30 years. Most people know the name but maybe not the history. Want to go through that?

I never thought a band that l started as a kid would still be going. I think from the beginning I always wanted to be a crossover band. Most of the hardcore bands l loved started going metal, but funny enough, Carnivore went from a metal band to more hardcore-sounding. I wanted to do a band like Carnivore. I think it was you who turned me on to the Breakdown demo. To me, they sounded metal-ish, so that’s kinda what l wanted to do with Enrage. We wanted to wear our metal influence on our sleeve from the jump start, kinda like Leeway. To be honest, I think it hindered us. I think we were too metal for some and too hardcore for others. Not many bands sit around and say, “I want the next song we write to be like Sick of It All meets Destruction” [laughs].

With all those years under your belt, what were some of the highs and lows?

I try not to dwell on the negative but the hell with it... the lowest to me is seeing the elitism in the hardcore scene. I guess since the genre prides itself that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to be in a band, it’s all about who you know, who you schmooze with. Who’s “crew” you’re connected with. I’ve had people tell me straight to my face that they didn’t realize how good the Burning Within demo was because they saw that three of us had long hair in the pic and wouldn’t listen to it.

There’s just as much image in hardcore as there is in hair metal.

That’s where the “Down With Nobody“ mantra came from. The highs? 

  • Being on the compilation [1996's Skating All Areas: Wounded Knee] with Motörhead
  • Playing with the Bad Brains 
  • Ieperfest in Europe (the response almost made me “ferklempt” [laughs])
  • Everything going on now

People talk about the heyday of SIHC [Staten Island hardcore] in the '90s which is legit, but we have been doing more now than we ever did back then. I mean, I’m chatting with your handsome self now, and this is like the third interview I’ve done in as many weeks. The NYHC doc is out, I got to be on Sick of It All's new record, which is huge for me, we’re on the friggin’ radio, none of this was happening back in the day.

You and (Enrage guitarist] Mike Pellegrino have been partners in this for longer than most marriages last! How do you two keep it together and keep it fresh for yourselves?

I genuinely love the guy. Like, who talks on the phone anymore? I talk to my family and Mike [laughs]. I am a firm believer of valuing friendships, letting your friends know you love them because we might not be here tomorrow. I’m rambling… Enrage is like the Great Oz from The Wizard of Oz. I’m that big green head Oz but Mike is the guy behind the curtain running things. I’m the one who does the “networking” in the hardcore and metal communities and Mike is the one who gets us on the streaming services, etc.

What’s the band up to lately?

Well, pretty much what I was mentioning before, plus we got the 3 Gateways out. Paul Bearer of Sheer Terror is on one, Eddie Sutton of Leeway is on the newest. It’s surreal because these bands were huge inspirations for me growing up. We plan on doing a covers EP coming up, and hopefully Europe again... fingers crossed. Just riding the wave that we are on now. Mike and I are very fortunate to finally have a solid lineup with us .We get along well with the rhythm section. You know how it is, getting along with your band mates is key. Plus, Russ and Ryan are crazy talented. It’s wild, they really know how to play. Ryan is the young blood, he’s a monster behind the kit. It's great because he doesn’t try to emulate Marco’s style (which was more Mackie, Earl Hudson) at all. I like tha . This dude is more like Dave Lombardo, Gene Hoglan, etc.

How did you wind up Involved with the NYHC Chronicles Film?

I think sticking to doing something long enough, people acknowledge that. Jerry Farley (producer and heart throb— Mike De Lorenzo) was an Enrage fan and I also used to book his old band at Dock Street, fast forward a few years later and Jerry is doing the Sick of It All record on Staten Island and I was fortunate enough to be asked to be on the gang vox. From there, I did some small talk with [director] Drew Stone and it kinda came together from there. People initially were like, “How the Hell are you not on the 10 Questions?” but I’m patient, so not only did l get to do the 10 Questions, I also got to be part of the movie. 

The New York Hardcore Chronicles Film director Drew Stone and Jeff in 2019

You’ve always championed Staten Island, and have always been at the center of the underground music scene there. When did you start booking shows and what keeps you in the game after all of these years?

My brother Marco started booking shows first. Well, he would find the local openers for the nationals that came through (Death, Bolt Thrower, GWAR, etc.). It’s funny because you know Marco isn’t even into this kind of stuff [laughs]. We were drawing a lot of people on the Island. I literally remember that one show there was like 1000 kids for a local show? And the clubs were ripping us off. So, Marco worked out deals with the clubs that we could do all ages stuff, that led to booking other local bands. Word got around how big the scene was, so we started getting the bigger NYHC bands here. I was more abreast with who was popular, so I helped Marco. Then when Marco didn’t want to do it any more, I just kept it going. Now I’ve been booking bands for like 20 years? 

We championed Staten Island because again, we weren’t cool enough for NYC, so we made a scene here on our own. I can’t stress this enough— Enrage was not the first hardcore punk band from Staten Island, but we were the first to wave the flag for our borough. We were the band that made people take notice.

Before us, bands got in the van, traveled and played, which is great, but bands wouldn’t play their hometown or they’d shun their hometown, saying there is no scene. There are younger bands unfortunately doing it now. You want a scene? You make it fucking happen. 

Enrage, 1990. (Photo: Linda Aversa)

You’ve booked at most of the more popular places on the Island, Rock Palace, OnStage, Dock St, etc. There just seems to be something special about Mother Pug's Saloon. How did you meet KC and wind up turning that place into the venue in the borough?

Thanks man, that’s cool of you to say. That was my goal. I went there a couple of times and heard they booked the occasional local punk show and I saw on Facebook that KC was looking for a bartender. Billy Hamill (Staten Island Punk rock legend— Mike De Lorenzo) was leaving and put in the word that I book bands. I’m not a good bartender but I’m great at promoting and I told them that would happen. I’ve said for years to make a scene happen again on Staten Island you need big bands to come through and l delivered that (Michale Graves, Slapshot, Sheer Terror, Murphy’s Law, Candiria, Carnivore A.D. ). Now l got something there pretty much every week.

Do your students react to you being a part of the metal/punk/hardcore scenes and does it ever factor into your career?

No, not really, they couldn’t care less [laughs]. I remember we did the interview on WSOU and I’m thinking we just did an interview on the biggest terrestrial metal station in the country, but on Wednesday, I am still a herb to them [laughs]. It’s funny because some kids are legit fans of the band but they kep it on the DL, then they come to me to chat after the bell rings. 
 
Does that aspect of your life ever tie into your lessons? 

Being in a band, being a bouncer has made me pretty good at working a room, being in control, so it has actually helped in the day gig. As for the kids, they want hear stories, so l don’t teach [laughs]. They know now more than ever about “Jeff Enrage” since the local paper recently interviewed me on having a dual life. I used to hide it more but then it felt like l was doing something wrong, which I’m not, so if a kid asks me, “Hey, my older brother said you’re in a band…” I’m like "yep." We played Belgium and they can’t believe I’m a teacher over there [laughs].
 
Anything else on your mind?

I’m strikingly handsome, charming, and as you can see by this answer, modest. That should be acknowledged [laughs]. 

Enrage Burning Within-era lineup 2018 reunion

Thank you so much for taking time out to do this interview!

No, thank you! Much love to ya, buddy! It means the world to me to be part of this. Let your friends know how much you love them, Rise, refuse, and PMA.

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