For my money, Outburst is one of the best bands to ever come out of the NYHC scene. Though the Queens-based outift never released a proper studio album, their Miles to Go 7" from 1989 holds up as one of hardcore's finest collection of songs. Outburst's influence can be heard today in the sound of such bands as Soul Search, Freedom, and Cold World. They broke up in the early '90s, but Outburst did reunite in 2012 for a slot at that year's Black N' Blue Bowl, so here's to hoping they do it again soon.
In my constant pursuit of bringing you interviews with some of hardcore's most influential musicians, here's a new Q&A with George D'Errico, Outburst's guitarist and co-songwriter.
Outburst is so closely associated with Queens, but were you born there yourself?
I grew up in old Astoria (which we considered Astoria Park South or APS), on the same block as A.J. from Leeway and Jojo from Outburst. I played football with A.J. on our APS Block team. We hung with a very large group of kids. It was like a pack of 12 of us, and we played sports and loved our metal, punk, hardcore and hip-hop.
What are some of your earliest music-related memories?
Honestly, my earliest musical influence was listening to AM radio. I would here everything from Donna Summer to the J. Geils Band. Then my cousin Patty's boyfriend was getting rid of his 8-track collection and gave it to me. It was all old Black Sabbath from the '70s and KISS albums. I was in heaven, and listened to them constantly.
Did you get into hardcore through metal, or did hardcore come first?
From there we went to Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and Judas Priest. We eventually went to Mercyful Fate, Slayer, and Metallica. A.J. was the one who kept us in tuned with early punk, so he added Zero Boys, 7 Seconds, and the Sex Pistols to that. We also loved all of the early hip-hop stuff: Eric B. & Rakim, Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, EPMD.
SEE ALSO: Queens, NY: A Look at NYHC Ground Zero
Did you play in any bands before Outburst?
Outburst was the only band I've ever played in. Jojo and I pretty much wrote 90% of the music and lyrics. We were very close friends and still are. He is one of the most creative guys I know and wrote pretty much all of the lyrics. I was more of the music guy. I loved writing Tony Iommi type riffs, but we had no rules and we could go 100 miles per hour. It was so much fun to go to the studio and share these with the rest of the band to further collaborate on them.
I went to Newtown High School in Elmhurst, and while we had our fair share of musicians during my era there (members of Madball, Dmize, etc.), you went to St. John’s Prep, another high school in Queens with quite the hardcore pedigree.
Yes, we went to St. John's Prep High School, and that was on Ditmars, also where Kraut started. I remember seeing Johnny Kahns play drums and he was a freak. He seemed to channel Stuart Copeland but on steroids. I was also very close to Sasso Motroni who was another speed demon on the drums and played for the Unruled, who later became Leeway. A.J. also went to St. John's, and so did some of the Token Entry guys.
Did Outburst have a sonic blueprint you wanted to follow during the early days of the band?
I don't think we had a sonic blueprint, but we loved to alter speeds constantly sometimes with the same riff. I always felt like I couldn't bore the crowd, that would be like a sin to me. It was all written to enjoy live where we would also throw in some breaks for rest. I guess we would always try to surprise the audience. Some songs have back to back dance parts like "Learn to Care." One being a little more skanky then the first.
When and where was the first Outburst show, and what do you remember from that day?
Our first show was at the Right Track Inn out on Long Island. It must have been summer of 1987. We all were a little nervous, but we did fine. I guess it was a really good first gig. You wouldn't want to start off at CB's on your first one.
The 1987 Outburst demo is deemed a classic by many people in the hardcore world. Did you feel you had done something special at the time, or are you critical of that session? I love how it holds up all these years later, but I know how musicians can be tough on their own stuff.
A.J. from Leeway was helping us produce the demo. We recorded it at Don Fury's studio on Spring Street. I remember it being a bit frustrating as our old bass player had issues with his takes. As for the sound, it could be better, of course, but I kind of like the way it sounds, live and raw. That is what hardcore was about to us. It wasn't about being polished. If people like your songs in that form, then I think it says a lot about the writing.
Did your parents support your music playing aspirations? From my experience, that could be a tough road when it comes to having your family in your corner.
My Mom wasn't really into it, as she though that it would take away from my college work. We balanced a lot back then, work/school/band, etc. Also, NYC is so expensive!
Bill Wilson put out Outburst’s Miles to Go 7” on his Blackout! Records label in 1989. For my money, that might be the best NYHC 7” ever released. Do you remember what the public reaction was to that record when it first came out?
I was really impressed with the recording engineer for the 7" [Bob Van Der Mark]. Bill had some funds, so we were able to do this right. We recorded it in Setauket, NY, out on Long Island. We had quite a few songs written, and we were excited to record with our new bassist, Mike Wells, as he was a major upgrade for us. We didn't really hear how it was doing, as back then we didn't have that immediate response like today with socials. I guess you just hope people like it, and at the next show you could tell that they did. We started getting better gigs playing with bigger bands. So, we kind of thought that people were into it. We were always confident in the songs, though, as you could always tell the response from the crowd if they liked it, loved it, or were indifferent. We also didn't really know how many we were selling, nor did we care. Hardcore was never about the money, it was always about the energy and the power of the crowd! If a band wanted to make money, they kind of knew that they needed a sonic angle that was more marketable to sign with a big label and a lot of bands went that route.
I recently saw the original photos from the Miles to Go record sleeve shoot at B.J. Papas’ house. She couldn’t remember where those photos were taken.
The one thing about our band is that didn't care what we looked like, and for that reason we were labeled "guido core," which I think is hilarious [laughs]. We never really took ourselves too seriously. We wanted a backdrop of the NYC skyline, as we thought that was cool. So we went to [Queens neighborbood] Long Island City with B.J. and lined up in front of the East River with the city behind us. I don't even think you can see the city, as it was like a hazy day, and we were too lazy to come back another day [laughs]. So, on one side you get the hard version of us and on the back you get the lighter side, being goofy. We have been mocked many times for that photo, and I don't think it helped us back then. There are bands from as far as Japan that spoof on that cover. But, we think the music is what really stood the test of time.
One of Outburst’s most beloved songs is “The Hardway,” a track that appeared on both the New York Hardcore - Where the Wild Things Are and New Breed compilations. Why do you think people love that one so much? I’ve seen a few bands cover it over the years.
When we came into the practice studio with the music to "The Hardway," I think we all knew that it was really good, especially after Joe added the drum intro. That drum intro really sets the tone for the whole song. Then Jojo added some really great lyrics, and it just took off at the shows. It became our anthem! It was very organic the way it happened. The crowd always determines what's good.
One thing I never got clarity on is why Outburst broke up after Miles to Go. I’ve always been disappointed that the band never got to do a proper album.
I think we were just done. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, and that was to have fun, write music that could move the crowd and stay true to ourselves. We were all in college looking to have careers and were working hard. Touring was very difficult and we didn't want to do anything half-assed. It was either all in or all out. I don't remember how we kind of ended it. It was either me or Brian or both. Jay and Mike decided to move on to other bands, but in different genres. Jay was the most talented musician of us all, and went to play for a funk band. I wanted to go into the business side, and I've been in the business ever since, in some kind of capacity. Jojo has a family near me on Long Island, and is doing very well in finance.
What ever happened to Outburst’s singer, Brian Donahue?
Brian was more of a free spirit. I know he moved into Manhattan with his girlfriend, but we really didn't keep in touch. We almost got him to do the 25th anniversary reunion show for Black N' Blue Bowl. I think there may be something brewing for the 30th anniversary! I really love Brian. He is a real sensitive guy, but when it was show time, he would really let loose! It was a release for him. I remember before a few shows at CB's that I would slam his shoulders as if he had shoulder pads on really hard to get him psyched up and he would love it! I miss that camaraderie.
Jay Rufino (Outburst) and Mike Dijan (Crown of Thornz, Breakdown) were both in a hardcore band called Show of Force that you were in for a minute. Tell me about that.
I actually was never officially in Show of Force, but I did play a few shows with them. They had some cool Black Sabbath-type riffs that I really liked and was friends with Tony Kastanos, the drummer. They were very good.
SEE ALSO: 2014 interview with Michael Gibbons (Leeway).
Got it. Let’s shift gears into your career. I remember when I worked in music retail, you used to come by to speak with the buyers. That was back in the early ‘90s. Years later, I worked at Universal Music Group, and you were part of that system as well. That means you’ve been working in the music business for a long time! That’s not an easy feat these days.
I've been in the music business for 25 years now, and have worked for UMG, Disney Music Group, and now, Republic/Island Records. Yes, the business has really changed throughout the years, and I'm lucky enough to still be here doing it. It isn't always easy, but this business is never boring!
Follow Outburst on their Facebook page.