Interviews

Janis Chakars (Citizens Arrest, Animal Crackers, Hell No, Moses, Kill van Kull, Grey C.E.L.L.)

Janis Chakars might not be a household name, but his guitar playing in Citizens Arrest has helped inform legions of hardcore punk bands for the past three decades. The New York musician's discography has seen him play in a variety of bands, including Hell No, Kill van Kull, and most recently, Grey C.E.L.L. I first became a fan of Janis during his Citizens Arrest days, but I think his most overlooked work came during his time in the aforementioned Hell No, a band that was never easy to lump into a category or subgenre.

Since I recently covered Grey C.E.L.L. on the site, I figured it was about time I interviewed Janis about not only that group, but everything else that has lead up to this point.

I know your family roots can be traced back to Latvia, but weren't you born and raised in Brooklyn? Tell me a bit about your upbringing. Were your parents strict or pretty liberal with their parenting style?

My dad was a World War II kid-refugee from Latvia, but my mom is from New Jersey. I grew up in a left of liberal household. I was born on a hippy commune upstate where my folks and the others living there produced a magazine for nonviolent revolution called WIN (Workshop in Nonviolence). My father once described himself in a piece he wrote for Newsday as “a pacifist anarchist with socialist tendencies.” This was quite unusual for a Latvian of the post-war wave of immigrants, but it was normal for my parents and their friends. We moved to Brooklyn when I was four and shared a house with other radicals and it took me a while to realize most adults were not like the ones in my immediate circle.

My parents loved it when I discovered hardcore. Before that I had become a pretty aimless kid and they recognized that it gave me direction. I remember my dad going to an early Citizens Arrest show at Downtown Beirut II and sitting in the back so as to support but not embarrass his teenager. I remember making a fanzine called Band Together and him giving me layout and design advice. “Don’t fear the white space,” he said. I remember when we refused to play a Nazi biker show in Brooklyn. My parents said they were proud. My father died a little before the first Hell No European tour, but the rest of the family has continued their support. Grey C.E.L.L. played kind of anarchist community center in Philadelphia a week ago and my wife, son, daughter, sister, brother-in-law, and cousin were there. None of them are really into hardcore, but we try to support each other. Once at Brownies, my mom announced at the door that she was coming to see her son play and they gave her some kind of pass that said “Moms get in free” which she kept for future use. Looking back, I was pretty lucky, it’s not always like that. 

Your parents sound like fantastic people, wow. OK, at this point, you’re obviously a music lifer. What kind of music, or band, was your first obsession?

The first record I ever loved was Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, which was in my parents’ collection. I still think that is a fantastic album and I have gone to see him live a few times. A friend sang “Hands on the Wheel” at my wedding. 

The first records I ever owned, I got from a woman who lived on the commune with us, but was a bit younger than my folks. She gave me the Ramones and the Modern Lovers. I still have the Ramones’ one, End of the Century. It is not their best, but it’s sentimental to me.

When I first started to seek my own identity, musicwise, I went towards cheesy metal like Mötley Crüe (although Too Fast for Love is actually not so bad), but at Latvian summer camp, there was this kid Derek Stukuls who had a band called The Inflatable Children. I remember him playing me D.O.A.’s “Fuck You” and suddenly the Crüe seemed like a dumb joke. 

I went home and started buying what Hobi from Our Gang and later Hell No used to derisively call “mall punk” records like the Sex Pistols, the Exploited, Dead Kennedys, easy-to-find stuff. My first show was D.O.A. and the Descendents at the Ritz. At Brooklyn Technical High School, I met Eddie Sayago of All for One and he really introduced me to New York hardcore and then I learned about CBs and everything else. I don’t know what I would called my first real musical obsession beyond the general category of NYHC, but I definitely obsess over bands. I do not have a huge record collection, but rather tend to get really attached to the stuff I like. 

Thinking back to high school, what would you have considered yourself back then (metalhead, hardcore kid, punker, etc.)? Did you have to ever deal with shit from other people for your musical preferences? 

I never got far enough in to identify as a metalhead, but in junior high I started to make myself into a punker of sorts. I remember getting in trouble for wearing a Nazi Punks Fuck Off shirt to school. 

People definitely gave you shit for looking different back then. I went to junior high on the border of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens and I just did not fit in. I got a lot of grief from kids there, I think especially the Carroll Gardens side which is funny to think about now that it is yuppie neighborhood, but then it was more of a working class Italian place. I remember someone throwing rocks at me when I went to a party on the Red Hook side too though. Of course, punks and hardcore kids were trying to be provocative so the shit you got was almost a secret pleasure.

By the time I was an upperclassmen in high school, I definitely identified with hardcore and had traded in the Sex Pistols and whatnot. I don’t think I ever made music my whole identity like some people did, but it certainly shaped my view of myself and the world, how I expressed myself and how I spent a lot of my time. It affected how I believed one’s efforts should be directed politically, personally and otherwise.

In never wore Xs on my hands, but I suppose I should mention straight edge here too. I didn’t have much to rebel against my parents for, but I had the idea that the hippies were too hedonistic and one thing that set hardcore apart was a rejection of that and I wanted to behave accordingly. I suppose the whole Krishna trend was an extension of that too, which I never really joined either, but I visited the temple which was right by my high school a couple of times, read the Bhagavad Gita and even flirted with studying religion in college. Later, I found more of an appetite for gluttony.

In that identity quest, which invariably entails differentiating yourself from your mom and dad, I also decided that I was not necessarily confident in the idea of radical revolution even if I could accept many of the observations made by revolutionaries. Instead of trying to change the entire society, hardcore represented to me the idea of trying to create a separate space where things could be different. It was like the Latvians trying to make their own country rather than change the whole USSR or world or like Vaclav Havel’s idea of “small works” being part of the power of the powerless, both of which also made impressions on me. I suppose in some respects, I was enamored with the idea the commune I was born to as well--although without the same revolutionary ambition--but I didn’t recognize it at the time.   

All of that stuff went into my teenage identity. 

Vaclav Havel (Photo found here).

When did you start playing in bands and who were the guitarists that you looked up to back then?

I had taken some guitar lessons as a kid, but gave up before really learning as kids often do. It was years later when visiting Derek and Greg Stukuls in Boston that I sat in on an Inflatable Children practice and they convinced me to play along. In that moment, I realized that punk and hardcore really were for everyone. It is democracy as music and a level playing field open to all. Anyone can do it and enjoy it. 

I think because hardcore so destroys the rock star hero worship thing, I didn’t really think about emulating any guitarist then, but the guy I knew who impressed me the most in high school was Rich Derespina, who later played in Hell No. Ted Leo’s ear also amazed me. I remember when Citizens Arrest started to cover Red C’s “Pressure’s On.” Ted [Leo] just listened to it once and then played it. That blew my mind. Our course, the Rorschach guys were really talented musicians and a great band, but I didn’t necessarily want to be that. Possibly the greatest guitarist of hardcore in my view was Mike Yanicelli of the 1.6 Band, who I had the good fortune to play with in the early days of a band called Moses.

Citizens Arrest was my first band. 

SEE ALSO: Burn’s Gavin Van Vlack on His Rough Teen Years, Graffiti, NYHC, Being Latino + More

Tell me about the formation of Citizens Arrest. 

I met a kid named Jay Nocido (I could be spelling his last name wrong). It must have been at CBs or something in 1988. He played bass and knew Daryl [Kahan]. We started messing around at Giant rehearsal studios until Jay faded away and we got Joe. It took a while to find a singer and we even had to abort our first booked show for lack of vox, but we eventually found Ted and started to get cooking in 1989. 

Original Giant business card from the '80s.

What was the sonic blueprint the band paid attention to durint the early phases?

The sonic blueprint was all over the place. I was probably still mainly into NYHC of the day, but we were encountering so much new music all the time. Once you discovered, say, Youth of Today you wanted to know what came before them and you start listening to old school stuff, which was actually not that long before but was a generation in hardcore years. So we got excited about SSD and DYS and such. At the same time the scene was racing forward with new styles, especially out of DC. We were also discovering things like Oi! which influenced “Dixon” on the demo and went to the occasional ska show. Daryl, of course, kept us listening to all the crust and crazy fast stuff too.

Our goal, however, was to be a hardcore band and as straight up as possible. Not metalcore, not crossover, not emo, not positive, not youth crew, not punk, just direct zero-sum hardcore. I think we wanted to sound like a definition of hardcore. Look up hardcore in the dictionary and it would just say Citizens Arrest. Of course, hardcore can be hard to define and in the end we were pleasantly surprised. For our efforts, we wound up sounding a little different than everyone else we call hardcore, but I don’t think you can say we are anything else. 

Do you remember what your first show was, and what was the reaction like to what you guys were doing early on?

Ted did the two-track live demo (it was more like a recorded practice) with us, but went off to college by the time we actually played our first show, so we got Pat from Our Gang on drums and moved Daryl to vocals. 

The first show was in some town in not-too-far-away upstate New York at a place called The Rock Palace with Go! and As One. My dad drove us. There was hardly anyone there and they made me sing “Start Again” because that song had a hair of melody to it and nobody else wanted to attempt it. I am not sure I even noticed if there was a reaction, we were just happy to play a show. We had been dropping off the demo to no avail. The Citizens Arrest demo sat in a case of rejected tapes on the wall at the Knitting Factory on Houston Street for a long time before our notorious Grimace the Reaper show there. We played places like Downtown Beruit II because anyone could. Even CBs seemed hard to break into. 

Who helped you guys break into the scene a bit?

[Go! singer] Mike Bullshit really helped us out. Because of him, we played the first regular show at ABC No Rio and a zillion times after. We were always there and would hop on stage even if we weren’t on the bill sometimes. 

Things started to take off from there, but we were always a mess. We basically didn’t own any equipment besides a bass and a guitar. We didn’t know how to drive much less own a car or van. We had only the most rudimentary understanding of our instruments, but we didn’t care. I remember playing Crucial Chaos on WNYU and Joe and I were plugged into the same Peavy practice amp. We had borrowed some drums from a high school friend’s brother, but another friend had to hold a cymbal stand up for Pat. We made do as best we could and got by on the support of the scene as people slowly got to know us.  

It was often hard for me to notice the audience in those days because I had terrible stage fright, but the first time I remember Citizens Arrest really nailing it to the point that even I was aware of that wonderful moment in hardcore when the band and the crowd are just fully into it together was St. Partick’s Day 1990 at ABC No Rio. I am glad someone made a video of that show. I saw it at the ABC visual retrospective that Freddy put together and was happy that it conformed my memories. 

Recordings really helped us build an audience especially the 7”. (Thanks again to Freddy here too.) Zines said nice things about it. Since we didn’t tour or anything, it allowed a wide set of people to encounter our music and increased interest in the band. 

By the time of our last show, at ABC, the crowd was sick. I remembered being pushed backwards throughout the set and Pat’s cymbal hitting me in the back and neck. It was the best possible way to go out and felt fantastic. It was good to end on a high note. 

Speaking of ABC No Rio, Citizens Arrest is so closely associated with that venue. What was it about ABC No Rio and the community around it that was so special to you?

ABC seemed to embody everything that hardcore was supposed to be. It was totally independent. It was by the kids and for the kids. It stood on moral principle: no racism, no sexism, and two daring things at the time, no violence and no homophobia. It was a place that could accommodate community so that you could find there not just a performance, but a record distro table or a Food Not Bombs table or whatever else people wanted to get going. 

The deficiencies of the CBs scene had wrecked it and ABC appeared as a savior. In the process, all kinds of new bands got to play including us. It was a marvel to see as this hovel became the spot in New York for touring bands as well. It was to the point that I sometimes second guess my memories. Did Poison Idea really play ABC? Did I really play there with Jawbreaker, MDC, and Neurosis? 

ABC is special because I spent a lot of time there and played a lot of shows there. It’s where I learned to play. It is where I learned what music could be and what you could do with it. I learned everything at ABC. I will be forever grateful for the experience and I am so happy that others have carried it on. It was a terrible disappointment that Daryl got sick and we had to cancel the Citizens Arrest show when we reformed, but I hope to play there again even if the old building is gone.     

The people of ABC are naturally special to me too. Pretty much all of my oldest friends, I knew there. However, the significance of ABC is much bigger than my personal connection to it. It took the whole scene in new direction and constitutes a hugely important chapter in hardcore history. 

What’s the story behind Animal Crackers, a band you played in during the same time as Citizens Arrests’ first run?

Everybody shared everything at ABC, equipment, show duties, and even band members. It must have been Charlie Adamec that pulled me into Animal Crackers. He was a few years ahead of me at Brooklyn Tech and had already used me for The Manacled. Animal Crackers had Will Tarrant from Queens, Charlie’s homeland, and Ted Leo (later Jon Reed, who now is a master tattooer in Austin) on vox, but its real heart and soul was Dave Wilentz, a great guitarist and one of the kindest people you will ever meet. He went on to be in a bunch of great bands and still plays. Dave had a cool kind of punk and garage/surf rock sensibility that made Animal Crackers cool. Dave also put out the Songs for the Socially Retarded tape comp that probably has the rarest Citizens Arrest recordings in the world. 

I always felt a little guilty playing with them, however. Citizens Arrest was my main thing and I felt like I could never pay them enough attention. They were a good band and deserved more. Thankfully they had Dave to carry most of the guitar burden. There is a 7” called Seven Inch Record and a split 7” out there somewhere, if anyone is curious to hear us. Both were recorded at Giant on the lowest of budgets imaginable. 

Citizens Arrest released a few records, but you never launched a proper tour. Why was that?

We didn’t have our shit together enough and we didn’t last long enough to tour. In the first go around besides New York, we played around the northeast and once in Ottawa. More recently we have done Oakland, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Austin, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Montreal and Leeds in the UK in addition to New York. We are going to Sweden at the end of March. I guess we are just on the longest and slowest tour ever. 

Citizens Arrest at ABC No Rio, 1989. (Photo found on Facebook)

My favorite Citizens Arrest release was Colossus

It is always interesting to me to learn what from Citizens Arrest resonates with different people. Estonian National Radio did a piece about me and Citizens Arrest a while back and they chose to play “Suffer Now” which surprised me as I don’t think of it as one of our “hits.” We played “Touch and Go” at the Knitting Factory when we first got back together because Zack from Puzzlehead requested it. 

For me, hands down, the original A Light in the Darkness, without the comp tracks, is my favorite. 

First, the 7” played at 33 might be the ideal hardcore format. Because the songs tend to be short you can fit enough music on there to be satisfied, but it will leave you wanting more. Plus, you get that moment of anticipation as you flip the record over and drop the needle. 

It will sound conceited, but I can almost take myself out of the band and listen to our 7” for pure enjoyment. I think the songs are diverse in tone and style, but all hang together well. I think Daryl turned in a vocal performance for the ages. I even like all of the imperfections. They give it a kind of energy that captures the spirit of hardcore. Of course, it was my first baby too so naturally I love it. I am proud of everything we did, but the 7” is special. I read a review of Soaked in Others Blood that said we never wrote a bad song and that meant a lot to me, but the 7” is the gem. That’s why it is the only thing you can stream or download so far.

Why do you like Colossus better?

My first love is metal, so it might be because that one feels a bit more thrashy, where the first one is more fast hardcore. It also could be because I discovered that album first, and that often can color your opinion with a certain romaticism. Anyway, why did Citizens Arrest break up?

Being in a band is kind of like being in a relationship and when you are young you can drift in and out of relationships without any really good reasons. I suppose our musical tastes and curiosities might have been diverging a bit, but we weren’t really fighting with each other. In fact, now that we are like an old married couple, we probably fight a lot more. I think it was like a teenage love, sometimes there is nothing exactly wrong, you just break up. 

Hell No was the next band you played in. From John Woods’ vocals and stage presence, to the tough-to-define songwriting/arrangements, there was something very unique about what you did there. 

For sure and Hell No caught some backlash for it as well as praise. We wanted to try new sounds. We were listening to more things that weren’t straight up hardcore from the Jesus Lizard to Man is the Bastard and all sorts of other stuff. We wanted to break out of the ABC bubble and play new places. We did not want to abandon ABC, we just didn’t think it had to be so exclusively our home base like it was for Citizens Arrest or Go! 

I remember an in early attempt to explore new places, we played a show at this shitty bar called the Spiral. It turned out that it was an over 21 show and people handed out flyers accusing us of turning our back on the scene. I wasn’t even 21 yet myself. 

On the other hand, Hell No was always kind of critically acclaimed and popular with fanzine editors. We were even on the cover of Maximum Rocknroll once. We put out a lot of music, got on the road quickly, and worked pretty hard. It was nice to play lots of new places too, but we never really became a tight-knit part of any particular scene or wing of the hardcore scene the way Citizens Arrest did. 

A one-off project you did in 1992 was The Manacled, a band that issued a 7” on Sam McPheeters’ (Born Against, Men’s Recover Project) Vermiform label. 

The Manacled actually played the first ABC show as Atrocity. Their guitarist abandoned them at the last minute and Charlie, the same guy who was in Animal Crackers, asked me just before the show to play. They only had three songs, he assured me. He quickly showed them to me upstairs just before we went on and I am sure it sounded horrible. We got a little better and played a bunch of shows, mostly at ABC, but as with Animals Crackers, I felt bad that I couldn’t devote more attention to it. 

Between Citizens Arrest, Animal Crackers, The Manacled and Hell No (The Inflatable Children would often have me play a song too) I probably played ABC more than anyone else in those first couple of years. 

The Manacled 7” was never meant to be a record. I think we were just trying to see what we could get out of recording a practice two-track live and maybe make a demo. If I recall correctly, Vermiform put it out because Sam had credit at a pressing plant that he had given a bunch of business to. So, it was a surprise record for us, but it wasn’t all bad and it definitely captured who we were. The drummer, Melissa, went on to do all kinds of cool things in music like Team Dresch. 

Eventually, I decided that playing in multiple bands wasn’t such a good idea.

I played in a band with Andrew Orlando, the guy who owned Reservoir Records, the label that released the second Hell No album, ¡Adios Armageddon! I remember hearing an advance of that and thinking it was going to break through to a lot more people. But it seemed like most of the other stuff Hell No did, it went over people’s heads. Do you think it was just a case of being ahead of your time, or is what the band did too esoteric in some of its musical characteristics, no matter when it would have come out? 

Black Army Jacket! Will from Animal Crackers put out a record of yours, right?

Yep!

We were psyched about ¡Adios Armageddon! too, especially because we got a much better recording with it than Skin Job and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I have never made a record or played a show hoping it would catapult me to great popularity. You just make what you make and are thankful for the opportunity to do so. The success and joy is in that. Anything else is gravy.

People don’t hear that a lot in our society. You watch, for example, the TV show The Voice, and everyone is saying, “If I win this thing and become famous then I can play music” when they have already been making music. People should just make music. It shouldn’t be something special or reserved for celebrities or people some companies think they can turn into celebrities. Understanding music as a star factory just shows the complete corruption of our culture by commercialism, big business, and its associated marketing.

I am proud of ¡Adios Armageddon!, but truth be told Hell No’s best record was Weird Weirdo which they made after I left the band. 

That's interesting to hear you say that. 

People have always called Hell No an underrated band, but it had a good run. It just sell like the people who liked it thought it should, but we got some really good shows and did a couple of great tours (US and Europe with me and Europe again with me as a roadie). Part of the disconnect might be due to the fact that Citizens Arrest kept getting more popular after we broke up which affected people’s expectations. Part of it might be that we had a sound that was more attractive to people who played in bands than those who did not. Either way I have no regrets, Hell No did some solid stuff.   

Hell No at Under Acme, NYC, 1996. (Photo: Carlos Ramirez)

What ended up happening with Hell No? Why did you decide to part ways?

Hell No was slowing down I decided to try another band with Mike Yanicelli, Jim from Hell No and Go! and Bob Russell. I never did as much writing for Hell No as I did for Citizens Arrest, so I wasn’t as essential to them and I thought to try something new. 

One day practicing with Mike, Jim, and Bob, someone knocked on our door and said that we sounded good, but he noticed no one was singing. That led us to Dianne Holzhammer who was a fantastic singer and who sang rather than screamed. Singing opens up all kinds of possibilities and it was really exciting to me. We became Moses and I decided to put my eggs in that basket rather than try the whole multiple band thing again.

SEE ALSO: 12 Newer Hardcore Bands to Check Out in 2018

Yes, that's right, I remember Moses.

Moses is the band that I wish left more for posterity. We don’t have any recordings from the Mike era. When it was me alone on guitar, we just did a two-song 7”. After that we brought in Cooper from Die 116 and Kiss It Goodbye and we have nothing from that period except for new versions of the 7” songs that wound up in a movie that nobody saw soundtrack.

It was a real growth moment for me musically. I was quite intimidated to play with Mike because he was the best guitarist I ever knew, but he is a very generous bandmate and it was really fun. The whole band wrote very well together too and it was genuinely together. I don’t think anyone ever brought a whole song to practice, it all just happened in the moment playing off each other. My confidence in my ear and as a player in general grew a lot. 

We even got signed to some kind of label that I never really understood, but had a bunch of money and an office and a lawyer and put us into a fancy studio with people bossing us around. That was a bad idea. They really just wanted Dianne, but I got two new guitars, one summer doing nothing but music, and learned from it. 

Hell No then went on to make their best record without me. 

The Kill van Kull was a group that featured you and musicians that have also been in Sweet Diesel, Unsane, and other bands. 

The KVK was Moses after Dianne left. Same people, but we wrote all new songs and changed our name. 

I did not have a lot of time in the group before I moved away from New York, but was lucky to make one genuinely kick-ass record with them, Human Bomb. I listened to it when you asked me to do this interview and it really holds up. It has its own flavor and packs a nice punch. Ben Smith from Sweet Diesel took over for me and then they toured a lot, but didn’t record much more. 

Moses and the Kill van Kull might be my most underrated efforts, I think, if we need to think like that, but of course, we don’t. I had a good time with all my bands and that is enough for me.

 

How did Citizens Arrest get back together again?

I went to Indiana University for graduate school because it was a good school that could accommodate both my wife’s and my interests, but also because it was far from anything and anyone I knew. I wanted to just crawl into a bubble and study without any distraction from music or anything else. The only music I did was singing Baltic folksongs with other grad students. 

Daryl contacted me a couple of times over the years and asked about getting the band back together, but I was always in Indiana or Latvia or Siberia or Mongolia or someplace far away that school had taken me. When I moved to Philadelphia, it was within range of the old gang and I agreed. It felt awesome to play again and once you get that feeling, you want more. A hundred miles is close enough to New York for Citizens Arrest to exist, but it is still far and Joe works weekends and we have eight kids between us now (him six and me two). Daryl travels for work sometimes and plays in other bands. My work provides some flexibility in time, but is pretty demanding. It is just hard to do things as regularly as we would like. 

When we reformed, we pledged to keep it only to people who had been members of the old Citizens Arrest. So, we could invite Ted for the reunion, but no new people would join. Eventually, Pat couldn’t do it anymore and gave us his blessing to use another drummer so long as we saved his spot if he wanted it back. 

After one guy didn’t work out, Daryl suggested this dude Derik [Moore] who he had played with before. Turns out Derik lives like nine blocks from me in Philly. Derik was playing with this band Toska who were really good, but their guitarist also played in The Disappearances and Solarized, was over committed, and left. So, Toska invited me to an Ethiopian restaurant to talk about maybe playing together.   

Ah, so this is how your latest band, Grey C.E.L.L. formed.

Yeah, I told them that I liked their band a lot, but some of the songs sounded complicated and I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn them. They said fine. I told them that I didn’t want to use drop tuning like they had been doing. They said fine. I said that I didn’t play very well, but I liked what I played and was not interested in improving or changing. They said fine. I told them I had sold my cabinet and so did not have a full set of gear. They said fine. They said I should write the songs. I said fine. They said how about we practice next Tuesday? I said OK and wrote a song. That song is now called “Set.” 

Grey C.E.L.L. (Photo: Karen Kirchhoff)

I am very excited about Grey C.E.L.L. It is like return to my roots and feels great. We rehearse in a house that was squatted through to legality. Our first show was in a basement/speakeasy. Our second was at an ABC-esque place called LAVA. It has brought me back to the DIY hardcore world. It is just where I want to be and we’ll see where it goes.  

Citizens Arrest has been playing out again. What’s the plan going forth?

We are really lucky that we recorded A Light in the DarknessColossus, and those compilation tracks and that people kept them in print for so long. It is the reason that people still call us and ask us to play. That’s why we were able to put out a new 7” a few years ago. It turned us into something even bigger than when we originally existed which provides us some benefit, but I want people to see us as more than a reunion band. We are playing for real and we play shows to a lot of people and shows to not so many people and all sorts in between. We are a hardcore band from now as Joe said at Europa in Brooklyn when we played with Tragedy. I just want to keep doing that and maybe get in on those tours we missed out on the first time around and maybe make some more records. There is a certain burden of expectation on anything we do now, but if Citizens Arrest was worth anything then, I think it still is now. We play hardcore music. That’s all we do, just like the first time.

What can you share about your career in education/academia? What areas of education do you specialize in? I saw that you’ve also done quite a bit of freelance writing.

I first did an M.A. in Russian and East European Studies. After that I was not sure what to do after that and thought to try my hand at journalism, but I took a class that convinced me the centrality of media in our lives meant that trying to understand it was more important than trying to become a reporter or something. So, I did a PhD in mass communication. That said, one of the things that makes journalism and mass communication so important is the role(s) it plays in the formation of communities (local, national, international and otherwise) and so it is something I like to participate in as well as analyze. 

My research is usually on Latvia and media (surprise!) and I have looked a lot at the place of journalism in Latvia’s independence movement, or “Singing Revolution,” of the late 1980s (again, no surprise if you have been reading this interview). The wider context, however, is media in politics, political movements and identity. Sometimes, I investigate other things too. 

My current position, I bet they would like me to tell you, is at Gwynedd Mercy University #GMercyU. I work for the Sisters of Mercy—the nuns, not the band. I teach a very broad range of communication studies classes. Last semester I did a course on media and globalization. For the last class, we used The Scorpions to discuss the subject and created a band with me on bass and students on guitar, percussion and vocals. They rewrote the words to “Rock You like a Hurricane” to be about the class and we played it in an auditorium on campus.

The Sisters and the students are the best part of my job. The nuns have five critical concerns they believe need attention in this world: the environment, immigrants, nonviolence, racism and sexism. Those are some important things for us to attend to just like punks have for a long time. 

Janis in a recent photo.

Final question: If you had to pick your favorite punk/hardcore record that came out during the late ‘80s, early ‘90s NYC scene, what would it be and why?

One record! Come on. I’ll give you a couple of 7”s that I still listen to and which come quickly to mind, so must be among the tops:

Life’s Blood, Defiance

Sticks and Stones, World to be Saved, Song to be Sung and Storm Coming

There are so many other great records, but I’ll leave it at that rather than torture myself trying to choose my one and only favorite.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It really touches me to know that this music made enough of an impact that someone would ask me these questions. 

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Tagged: citizens arrest, grey cell, hell no

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